The Gustavian Weekly

Thinking like a champion: the power of mental toughness

By Haley Bell Staff Writer | April 19, 2013 | Sports & Fitness

Haley_BellElite athletes from all over the world compete in a variety of championships and Olympic games. The elite have always left the general population in awe of their unbelievable capabilities. Many of us often dream of being one of those competitors. Some forget that an athlete’s psychological processes have a great deal to do with the outcome we see. To physically get to the elite level, an athlete needs to strive for a specific type of mentality. So what is it about their mentality that differs from the majority of us?

According to a study from Sport Psychology, mental toughness is the key as it is viewed as one of the most important psychological traits in determining athletic success. Mental toughness refers to an inner focus and commitment to rise above challenges when facing adversity.

The study took thirty-two attributes of Mental Toughness and placed them into four dimensions. The first, attitude and mindset, is defined as, “the ability to maintain a positive attitude and keep your eye on the prize. Another aspect, training, involves, “establishing long-term goals, motivation, pushing performance, and learning to control the environment.” An equally important factor, competition, is “handling pressure, belief, regulating performance, staying focused, and being aware, (and being in control of), your emotions and the environment. Finally, post-competition is the ability to handle failure and success.

“People who become champions aren’t necessarily more gifted than others; they’re just masters at managing pressure, tackling goals, and driving themselves to stay ahead of the competition,” cultural and linguistic anthropologist Graham Jones said.

The difference between the elite and the rest of the world could largely have something to do with these attributes. These psychological processes can either be developed or natural. Either way, they enable a person to cope with the demands of a sport.

There are ways to overcome what the study refers to as “low mental toughness.” In an article titled Mind Gains by Bruce Barcott, top sports psychologists shared five ways to compete with mind over matter. His first tip is to worry early, not late.

“You want to prepare for misfortunes in advance. You should decide what your worries are and overcome them during your training. When competition comes closer you should be focusing on your strengths and what you did in training to prepare,” Barcott said.

His second tip is to employ a key word. In doing this athletes use a “key word” during an intense moment in training or competition to get a response they’re looking for. While in competition Barcott believes that it is equally important for athletes to embrace their competitors.

“Think about competing with the other athletes rather than against them. Tough competition should be used to bring out your best,” Barcott said.

Finally, Barcott’s last piece of advice is to “define success by your progress”. While it is easy for athletes to get caught up in how their competition is doing or where they envision themselves being, focusing on your you’re progressing is the true key to athletic success and confidence.

“Think about getting better every day and measure your success in terms of progress. Focus on something you can do today that you couldn’t do before,” Barcott said.

For many athletes, a “mental block” can hinder their performance to a great extent. Fortunately, the same techniques used by the “pros” can also help college level athletes. Having a positive mindset and focusing on small improvements rather than the competition is something that athletes from every level and discipline can benefit from.

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