Years and years ago, when I️ was in high school, my family and I would all gather around the TV every Saturday night to watch a show called, “The Wide World of Sports.” The show would start showing ecstatic athletes, arms in the air, crossing a finish line followed up with completely dejected athletes, agony written all over their faces, losing a competition or getting hurt during a race. As these images were being shown, the announcer would say, “The thrill of victory and the agony of defeat!”
This show and the images of these athletes have resonated with me throughout the years. Why? Because I can totally relate to both sides at that finish line. I have celebrated winning races and competitions and I have also cried and mourned over losing races and competitions.
As an athlete, it’s important to prepare for the good, the bad, and the ugly. What does it primarily take to stay on track, keeping your eyes on the prize, even if you falter during training or competitions? The answer?? Mental toughness!
So, what is mental toughness and what does it take to be mentally tough and resilient?
Mental toughness is several things. It’s staying strong in the face of adversity. It’s the inner quality that enables individuals to work hard and stick to their long-term passions and goals. Your physical talents and dedication to training may be on point, but it’s the dexterity in dealing with the psychological pressures of a sport or an endurance race that help an athlete emerge as a winner. It’s the ability to be determined and stay focused when life’s “hard knocks” come knocking at your door.
Your mental game has a huge effect on the outcome of just about anything in your life! There are several elements that will enhance your “game on!” attitude and bring your mental toughness into sharp focus.
1. Flexibility. You cannot control everything that comes your way, but you definitely have control on how you react to it. This is where the “grit” of your personal mental strength comes into focus. Remain flexible to absorb the unexpected and be open to new ways to solve any unforeseen dilemmas that may put a glitch in your plans towards your goals.
2. Strength. The ability to dig deep and be determined to keep going, even under losing circumstances or insurmountable odds, can be a game changer not only to you but to those around you. Athletes who can physically and psychologically pound through adverse, tough situations not only improve on a personal level but their sportsmanlike conduct will be noticed and respected by those around them too.
3. Responsiveness. How we respond under pressure is key for a positive outcome. Are you game ready, self assured and confident when you hit the stage or start a race or are you nervous, skeptical and hoping and praying for the best outcome? We all hope for smooth sailing in our quests for success. As you approach your goal or target, remain connected, engaged, open, and prepared for possible detours or mishaps. If they occur, you can quickly realign and get back on track. I️ got bronchitis a week before a show last year. I️t was ugly, but my determination and mental toughness got me through I️t!
4. Resiliency. The ability to bounce back! We’ve all made mistakes, and have experienced disappointment, setbacks, and failure. Rebounding in the face of adversity and remaining optimistic through these situations not only physically helps us to get back into the game but most importantly, mentally helps us grow and learn. Our past experiences are valuable learning tools for future endeavors. Learn from them!
5. Sportsmanship. Are you a team player even if you’re not on a team? Staying positive and mentally on point definitely sets the tone in any competitive venue. Be a humble winner and a gracious loser. Celebrate the success of others. When someone else shines, add to their aura! Resentment sucks up a massive amount of negative, mental energy. Top athletes and winning teams support each other. Cohesiveness always wins and strengthens your mental game.
Developing mental toughness is a process and it’s not something you can learn overnight. I️t takes a lot of patience and conscious efforts to become mentally tougher and more resilient! Look at mental toughness as your armor, your shield, to help protect you from life’s bitter blows. If you have strong motivation, reasonable expectations, and patience to see things through to the end you’ll be well on your way to much success in all aspects of your life!
By Helen Fritsch