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Mental Toughness in Sports: Why Exercising Your Mind Will Help You Excel

Feb 1, 2011

Mental toughness is a necessity in competitive sports. Competing against other athletes, or even against your personal best, can be a stressful process. Competing, in general, can cause anxiety in some athletes. It’s one thing to enjoy playing basketball on your day off, but when you’re playing a game of basketball against a rival team and all eyes are on you to perform, mental toughness is often needed to overcome any stress and anxiety.

Mental Toughness as an Important Component of Sports Training

Even before you get to the competition stage in a sport, the act of training itself requires mental toughness. There may be times when you don’t feel like training and you’ll need the tenacity and toughness to carry on. At other times, you might be dealing with muscle soreness or a mild and irritating injury that doesn’t stop you from playing but does distract you. In this case, you have to mentally push through the discomfort and complete your training session. During training you might have doubts about your physical abilities. Watching others excel in physical activities that you have not yet mastered can be yet another distraction. Mental toughness in all of these scenarios entails staying focused on your own progress, ignoring distractions and pushing through all challenging moments.

The Role of Mental Toughness in Sports Performance

When it’s time to compete and prove your physical and sports ability to yourself and to others with an audience present, stress and anxiety can often get in the way. If you miss a basket or swing the bat and miss, you might feel like you have failed or that you are not good enough. With others watching, these feelings can become magnified. Mental toughness during sports performance involves tuning out the opinions of others. After all, you are human and you will make mistakes. Acknowledging that no one is perfect and that all you can do is make your best effort each time is a large part of demonstrating mental toughness in sports.

Exercising Your Mind to Help You Excel

If you have watched your favorite tennis player you have probably seen some instances of the player serving many double faults and nearly losing the game only to come back with several aces in a row and win. This is an example of mental toughness, where the prospect of losing can potentially take over, but the athlete stays so focused on the task at hand that he has the potential to do his best each and every time. The exercise of the mind in this process is that of staying present in each and every moment. As soon as your mind wanders off to what happened minutes before or centers on negative thoughts about yourself or others, your potential for sub-par performance increases.

With mental toughness, you rely on all of your strengths and abilities. You acknowledge your weaknesses but push through every aspect of your game to become better. You stay relaxed at all times and focus only on what you can control in each moment.

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