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The Importance of Mental Toughness for Athletic Success

The Importance of Mental Toughness for Athletic Success
by Katie Miller

Katie Miller, a sport psychology student and Sport Psychology Research Team Member at the University of Northern Iowa, talks about the ingredients of mental toughness.

At all levels of competition, the athletes and teams that are most successful in sport have one characteristic in common: mental toughness.

An individual who is an average athlete and has mental toughness will be more successful than an individual who has natural talent but who is not mentally tough. This is because the mind is stronger than the body. Winners are not always determined by physical skill alone.

Mental toughness is difficult to define. It is not just one thing, but it consists of many factors. For example, think of Chex mix. It wouldn't be Chex mix with just cereal; there needs to be pretzels, peanuts, butter, and all the other ingredients. They combine to make a whole.

Mental toughness includes:

Continued effort -- working toward goals and never giving up!

Self-discipline -- everything (training, sleep, diet, etc.) should contribute to health and performance.

Confidence -- knowing that with effort you can accomplish anything.

Focus on the present -- forget about past mistakes and performance errors.

Successful stress management -- keep anxiety levels low for better performances.

Controlled thoughts -- do not allow the mind to generate negative self-talk/thoughts.

Five Steps to Mental Toughness

Do you want to be successful? Then mental toughness is the answer!
The following five steps will help you achieve mental toughness:

1) Look at mental toughness as an on-going process, not as an end product. You must work at it consistently.

2) Choose a role model -- copy the attitude of a successful person whom you admire.

3) Lighten up -- engage in positive self-talk; allow yourself downtime; and, don't expect to be perfect.

4) Control your emotions -- you will be able to stay focused on your goals if you control your reactions to stressful situations.

5) Use Routines -- use a pre-game routine; use a pre-execution routine (example: do the same routine before each shot in basketball, such as elbow in, toes face the basket, follow through, etc.)


Henderson, Joe. (1990). Tough enough: mental toughness and running. Runner's World, 25, 14.

Coop, Richard. (1995). Get tough! For great golfers like Corey Pavin, the secret isn't trying harder, it's trying smarter. Here's how they do it- and how you can, too. Golf Magazine, 37, 84.

Author unknown. (1996). How mental training can help you to personal bests. Current Health 2, 23, 12.

About the Author:
Katie Elaine Miller is an undergraduate student working on a Bachelor of Arts degree in Sport Psychology. Katie is a member of the women's basketball team at UNI. Her main interest is coaching collegiate basketball.