The Mental Toughness File
We review some of this weekend’s mental toughness in sport:
- the Olympics,
- the Wallabies
- University of Notre Dame’s football team.
How Olympic Athletes Get Mentally Tough
In this report in seeker.com, Eric Niiler describes that whilst training and personal adversity make tougher competitors, mental toughness can also be learned.
Mental toughness isn’t just about sucking it up. Athletes who have it can handle failure better, bounce back from injuries and even deal with rain delays, bad judges or malfunctioning equipment.
“It’s an athlete’s ability to stay focused, motivated, committed in the pursuit of their goals, especially in the face of adversity and failure,” said Daniel Gould, a sports psychologist at Michigan State University who coaches Olympic and collegiate athletes. “It’s not like you show up on game day and have it.”
This month, Olympians in Rio have shown toughness in many ways in order to perform on the world stage, some of them bringing home medals or personal bests. Examples include the American 5,000-meter runner Abbey D’Agostino who helped a British competitor who fell, then seriously injured herself but still finished the race. Or the American divers who brushed off high winds this week on the springboard to qualify for the finals while other top-level divers got rattled.
There’s also the American female wrestler Helen Maroulis who studied the moves of the sport’s Japanese champion for two years, and then came out on top in Thursday’s gold-medal bout. And Great Britain’s Mo Farah overcame a fall during the 10,000-meter to surge ahead and win the gold.
Experts say mental toughness is about figuring out how to achieve goals without making any excuses.
Cory Middleton, an Australian sports psychologist who has interviewed many elite athletes about what makes them tough, says self-discipline comes in four areas: being motivated even when you don’t feel like it; rehearsing the activity or sport until you gain confidence; managing your emotions to turn them up or down as needed; and concentrating to stay connected to the present moment without dwelling on the past or getting too far ahead of yourself.
So how do athletes get to be mentally tough? Many of them have survived tough times either at home or during their training.
“Adversity is a necessary pre-condition,” Middleon said in an e-mail to Discovery News. “Without adversity in your life, mental toughness does not exist. Without adversity in your life growing up, how does one develop the self-disciplines and the know-how to overcome future adversities.”
TV viewers have probably seen examples of this phenomenon, such as the athletes who come from troubled homes, for example, or return from devastating injuries to greater success.
Gould says that overcoming adversity doesn’t mean you have to abuse or hurt young athletes to make them tough.
Obviously we don’t want something terrible to happen,” Gould said. “But sometimes we put athletes in situation that are over their head once in a while.”
That may mean training swimmers to practice with water-filled goggles, or putting young tennis phenoms in matches they probably won’t win so they can learn, instead of cleaning up against weaker opponents.
“Good coaches do simulations,” Gould said. “You are not making kids fail, but putting them in situations where they fail sometimes.”
Mental toughness in sport also comes into play during competitions when things don’t always go as planned and the athlete has to manage distractions that are out of his or her control.
“Part of being mentally tough is do you have a plan A where everything goes perfectly, plan B something has gone wrong, plan C is all heck breaks loose,” Gould said. “You have some strategies to go to in these events.”
Where Was the Wallabies Mental Toughness?
Australia’s national rugby union team last beat New Zealand’s All Blacks in a series in 2001, which tempers fan’s expectations somewhat. However, whilst a win isn’t expected a fully committed performance certainly is.
In the 42-8 drubbing by the All Blacks in Sydney on Saturday, the side looked mentally as well as physically under done, lacking both energy and confidence.
If the All Blacks can’t be beaten on skill they have to be beaten on attitude and effort with a committed blood and guts, never say die, approach.
This was never in evidence and it’s hard to understand why. After the game, Wallabies coach Michael Cheika says he got the team’s mental preparation wrong. In Jamie Pandara’s Daily Telegraph article Cheika admitted bungling the team’s mental preparation as his side suffered their worst defeat to New Zealand on home soil in more than a century.
He said, “I don’t think it’s about changing everything, it’s about getting the focus clearly on what’s important, I take responsibility for that, the mental preparation, that’s my domain and I’ve got to make sure the players are switched on to what is in focus.”
“And that’s why you would see me being very down, because I feel like I’ve let them down because I haven’t put them into a space where they’re going to do whatever it takes, especially around defence. It’s all connected, so I will have a good look at how I’ve prepared that over the last few weeks and try to add or refine and put some focus on what I need to make sure that the point is very clear for next weekend.”
Cheika was most disappointed with his side’s poor defence, which missed 31 tackles – a reflection of the lack of mental toughness in the team.
“You’ll have a chance to build on that in seven days, that’s what they’ll have a chance to do, there’ll be no bigger Test for mental fortitude than that,” Cheika said.
“Defence is attitude. There’s no rustiness. Let’s get that one out of the way, right.”
“When players run at you, you’ve got to tackle and that’s the nature of the game.”
“So when other things don’t work out, that will look after you.”
Strong words from the coach – the Wallaby fans will be looking for that mental toughness in action in next weekend’s return match in Wellington, New Zealand
University of Notre Dam – Grid Iron Team Requires Mental Toughness
Notre Dame coach Brian Kelly said that his team’s ‘defensive end’ Andrew Trumbetti is his own toughest critic who has tried to improve his mental approach.
“I’ve just been trying to improve mentally, just working my mental toughness. Just being confident in what I do, learning the playbook and just going out there and playing full speed.”
“The biggest thing for me is don’t focus on the last play; just move on. Because I’ll just think about the last play and that’ll ruin my whole practice kind of, if I have one bad play I’ll just be p—ed off about it the entire practice, so I just need to stop doing that.”