Five Keys to Mental Toughness in Sports

By John R. Ellsworth M.A, – Mental Game Coach

To develop mental toughness you must have the right attitude, behavior and state of mind. If you know your defined role as an athlete and have a developing sense of task mastery you will have confidence. Confidence comes from “knowing” you are comfortable with your skills and prepared for any challenge that comes your way.

5 Keys to Mental Toughness:

Mental toughness is about having a developed mental game edge that gives one the ability to:

1. Have a strong competitive self-image. This is an undeniable belief that nothing will get in the way of your success or meeting your goals. It’s as if you have a keen and sharpened sense of your unique edge in a competitive environment. This unique mental edge comes from the knowledge you have been there before and know what it takes to be successful.

2. Having a rock solid ability to remain locked in total concentration without internal(thoughts, worry or beliefs – doubts) or externaldistractions (people, weather, field conditions) getting in the way. This unique ability allows the athlete to be totally focused and relaxed at the same time. It’s about not being distracted by others’ performances or by others’ expectations for your performance.

3. Having the ability to recognize, regroup, and refocus when confidence is rocked by unplanned events, situations, or circumstances. Let’s face it; there is more out of our control during a competitive event than in our control. Take a negative thought; “I can’t get my changeup working today.” Use the following strategy to beat the negativity. First recognize you are distracted, then regroup – (counter or interrupt the negative thought), and finally refocus by reframing the negative thought into positive success oriented execution statement. With this statement you refocus on what you intend to do rather than question what you can’t do. The pitcher for example would trust in his release point and say, “this one is going exactly where my mind tells it to go.”

4. Having a deep intrinsic sense of desire and drive to be the best in whatever situation arises. I call this the “the got to have it syndrome.” This is where an athlete’s vision statement is so important. A vision statement is about where you want to go, what you want to become, and what is required for you to get there. It’s an intention that guides individual and team development and creates a desirable picture of the future. When the chips are down one can go to the vision statement to re-energize why it is they are pursuing the dream. Here is an example of a team vision statement:

“Baseball has always been something I love and I will strive to play without worrying about things or people I can’t control. I will play like there is nothing to lose and come in feeling like the game is mine from the start. I will strive to be the same player when things aren’t going my way as I am when things are.”

5. Having a strong sub-conscious mind that communicates in positive, directive and motivating terms. Being positive takes practice. It’s easy to be negative because a lot of the time we are not satisfied with our performances. A challenge is to be seen as an opportunity to succeed – not fail. If you focus all of your attention on the process of playing to the best of your ability, the outcome will take care of itself.

To have unwavering mental toughness it’s very important to prepare your mind to think confidently. The 5 Keys to Mental Toughness mentioned above will give you an effective roadmap from which to craft the mental toughness you desire. A strong mental toughness mindset will help overcome stress, anxiety, frustration, and fight off the negative self-critic.

“In order to excel, you must be completely dedicated to your chosen sport. You must also be prepared to work hard and be willing to accept constructive criticism. Without a total 100 percent dedication, you won’t be able to do this.”
—Willie Mays

For more information about this article contact or for information on mental game coaching contact John R. Ellsworth – Mental Game Coach at Protex Sports, LLC. You can also send your questions to Ask Coach John.

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