Building Mental Toughness in Sports: Commit to the Present
What is mental toughness? Many athletes are looking to become more mentally tough, but what is it really? There is no one thing that makes someone mentally tough. Rather it is a combination of psychological attributes, that when they come together allows someone to have it. There is a number of definitions out there but here is one when reflecting on them all that I have landed on.
"The natural of developed psychological edge that results from a collection of skills, attributes, values, emotions, and behaviors that allow people to overcome any obstacle, adversity, or pressure as well as deal with the general day to day demands (lifestyle, training, competition) placed upon them and still remain consistent, focused, confident and motivated to achieve their goals."
Today I want to focus on the ability to stay present and mental toughness. Being present is key, most things that get in our way are because it takes us away from the present moment, into the past or future. In order to be able to perform or even in anticipation of a competition we need to be present. Now that doesn't mean there isn't a need to find a time and place to think about strategies in the future. I do this with clients, but we can't let that time be all the time, and not when it isn't designated. I had a client today who was talking about how nervous he gets prior to tournaments, and part of why his nerves get the better for him is because he starts to worry and focus on the future, rather than just being present in what he is doing three days out. It is the same after making a mistake, people dwell on the mistake or start to worry about how it will impact them in the future or how they will have to make up for it.
Being present shows mental toughness, because it shows you can sit with the discomfort of not knowing what will happen next. The uncertainty and unknown about the future. Uncertainty is one of the biggest things that breaks a person. We as humans find it incredibly uncomfortable, and a big reason why we start to create stories about the future to try and make it more certain. To be present means you trust yourself to handle whatever comes your way. That you will figure it out and be okay. That is not easy, but when we look at many things this is what makes the difference between people who are mentally tough and those who might need to work on it.
A lot of selection processes out there purposefully create uncertainty in order to see how someone will respond. So how do you stay present? There are different techniques, focusing on your breath, mantras, looking at a logo, focusing on the task at hand. We also want to train our mind to more easily stay and come back to the present moment. We can do this through mindfulness, meditation, or through daily activities, practicing staying present.
To be good at being present requires practice, and discipline, but most people aren't willing to do the work. This is one thing that separates those who succeed from those who don't. It is like any other skill set, you have to put in the work, and at first you won't be very good, but if you keep practicing and working on it, it will become better and better.
To your success,
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Kate Allgood Masters Sport Psychology (with distinction) Masters General Psychology (with distinction) Sports Hypnosis Certification Muscle Activation Techniques Certification