Mental toughness is an attribute that enables you to perform at your optimal level of mental strength and which also has benefits for your wellbeing, adaptability and positivity.
It’s a fairly simple but effective concept so for the everyday supporter it can be a frustrating mystery as to why top-flight professional sporting teams can sometimes appear to be mentally under prepared for a big match. It happens too often in team sports, whether it’s football, rugby, cricket or basketball. This lack of mental toughness generally shows through a lack of purpose or intent to implement a predetermined strategy or game plan, a lack of fight or spirit if the team falls behind on the scoreboard, poor team unity and then when scarce opportunities do appear, they are routinely wasted.
Mental Toughness enables an individual and a team to be resolute and tenacious enough to withstand pressure or be able to respond positively to negative referring decisions or situations.
In the space of the past few days I have read articles about the England cricket team and Arsenal football club lacking mental toughness on the field.
Michael Vaughan, writing in the UK Telegraph, about England’s tour of the West Indies, explained that England do not have the mental strength to cope with pressure.
“England’s minds are not strong enough to cope with a bit of pressure when they have to bat second in a Test match after the opposition has made a decent score.
They do not have the mental strength to fight through tough sessions by working hard and forcing bowlers into their third or fourth spells. They are fine when they bowl a team out or make a big score batting first themselves but poor when they are under a little bit of pressure.
The only way you can change that is by having a strong mind but also a strong technique. How many of the England players, when going in under pressure, can play a forward defensive to a bowler regularly hitting the top of off stump? How many have techniques strong enough to survive a good ball that might nibble a little bit and is going to hit your stumps? Not many.
Only (captain) Joe Root and (coach) Trevor Bayliss can answer why they produce weak performances. It happens every four or five games. When you are rolled for 184 by Pakistan in home conditions at Lord’s, bowled out for 58 in Auckland and 77 in Barbados then the coach and captain have to ask why and look within”
Michael Vaughan is observing that individually and collectively England aren’t adopting a mentally tough approach.
Similarly, in English Premier League football, Arsenal won their latest match at bottom club Huddersfield, perhaps in response to stinging criticism prior from their former striker Kevin Campbell who said his former team “lack mental toughness”.
When Arsenal slumped to a 3-1 defeat against high-flying Manchester City last week they conceded Sergio Augero’s opener after just one minute and Campbell commented that Arsenal lack mental toughness and passion.
As far as I’m concerned it’s the mentality that you have to have on the road.
You have got to be sure and you have got to be mentally strong when you go on the road, especially at the better clubs in the league.
You have to go there with a toughness that you know you can get something, and a game plan that you’re going to get something.
At home Arsenal can do it because they have got their fantastic fans with them. But away from home there is that siege mentality that you have to have in order to pick up results away from home. Arsenal hasn’t had that in a hell of a long time.
They struggle against the big boys.
When you actually do the eye test and you look at Arsenal you see some fantastic footballers but what you actually do see is a lack of the passion, the drive to get dirty in the trenches.
It’s tough for a lot of Arsenal fans because the team have had it in the past.
They’ve seen the players who have played there, they have idolised the likes of Vieira and Tony Adams and these guys who, when the chips are down, they stand up. And they just don’t see it anymore”
These are detailed and damning assessments of two high profile professional teams by their former stars. Adopting the right mindset has nothing to do with talent but everything to do with preparation and application. That should be a given in professional sport.
The similarities are also there for students and professionals in your educational and working life –being mentally tough enables you to improve your performance and your wellbeing –to perform better and feel better.