Dr. David Yukelson, coordinator for sports psychology at Penn State University, defines mental toughness as having the psychological edge that enables you to "be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, resilient, and in control under pressure." This psychological edge comes naturally to some people, but many athletes have to work at it. The good news is that you can train your mind to be tough.
Here are a few tips (for more details, see chapter 3 of Sports: The Ultimate Teen Guide):
1. Always give 100%. Mentally tough athletes are confident in a I’ve-worked-my-butt-off-and-I-know-I-can-do-this kind of way. If you give 100% at every practice, in every drill, in every race, you will be confident in your ability to perform as needed when it really counts.
2. Set goals. Mentally tough athletes set specific, measurable goals and then work hard to meet them. They don’t need someone pushing them to train harder; they just do it. Setting goals can add to your confidence because once you achieve a goal, you have concrete proof that you can do it when the pressure’s on, whatever it is.
3. Visualize success. Mentally tough athletes know how to picture themselves succeeding in the midst of competition, whether that means nailing the penalty shot or hitting the ball with bases loaded or landing the perfect dismount from the balance beam.
4. Focus on what’s important. Mentally tough athletes can control their point of focus and block everything else out. They can ignore the screaming fans when taking a free throw; they can forget about the go-ahead runner on second base and pitch a third strike to the player at the plate.
5. Learn from your mistakes. This might be the most important point: mentally tough athletes know how to rebound from failure. If you keep dwelling on your mistakes, you’re not going to perform at your potential.
Think of England’s Laura Bassett in the World Cup semifinal match. She was heartbroken after kicking the ball into her own net, enabling Japan to advance to the finals. But she didn’t quit, and her coaches didn’t give up on her. Bassett started the next match and played well against Germany, helping England grab third place and beat Germany for the first time ever.
Everyone makes mistakes; mentally tough athletes know how learn from them and move on. Olympic swimmer Michael Phelps once said, “It’s actually more helpful for me to lose a race. . . . After having a bad race or if I lose, I work even harder to get back so that doesn’t happen again.”
Are you a mentally tough athlete? What have you done to train your mind and keep yourself calm and focused under pressure?