Mental toughness is an emerging term that is used to describe an athlete’s ability to excel at an optimal level in the midst of stressful competition. It has also been described as one of the most misunderstood terms in sports psychology. Here are two helpful definitions.
First, according to Buhrow et. al. (2017) mental toughness is
“the ability to cope with both the stressors of sport and also allows one to perform with consistency and control, especially during pressure situations” (p. 44)
Second, Jones et. al. (2007), define mental toughness as
“having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to, generally, cope better than your opponents with the many demands (competition, training, lifestyle) that sport places on a performer…” (p. 247).
Jones (2007) also developed a helpful framework for understanding mental toughness. It includes four dimensions. Both coaches and athletes can benefit from Jones’ mental toughness framework. It will enable them to better cope with sport-related pressures and grow as competitors:
Attitude & Mindset
Here the athlete demonstrates an unshakable self-belief and a refusal to be swayed by short-term gains (financial) that will jeopardize the achievement of long-term goals.
The athlete develops mental toughness when training gets tough. Here patience, discipline, and self-control are important components in developing mental toughness. In training, the athlete uses long-term goals as the source of motivation and determines to push himself to the limit.
In competition, the athlete demonstrates total commitment to their performance goal until every possible opportunity for success has passed. Additionally, when mistakes happen in the course of the competition, the athlete’s resolve is to push forward and not give up.
Here, it’s important for the athlete to recognize when to celebrate success and when to stop and focus on the next challenge. In the event that the athlete enters the post-competition environment after a loss, they resolve to use failure as a stepping stone for improving and becoming better.
Since mental toughness is a quality that can be developed, this framework offers a valuable tool for coaches and elite athletes.
Buhrow, C., Digmann, J., Waldron, J. J., Gienau, D., Thomas, S., & Sigler, D. (2017). The Relationship between Sport Specialization and Mental Toughness in College Athletes. International Journal Of Exercise Science, 10(1), 44-52.
Jones, G., Hanton, S., Connaughton, D. (2007). A framework of mental toughness in the world’s best performers. The Sport Psychologist21(2): 243-264.