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Mental Toughness Training for Athletes

Updated: May 28, 2021

The Key to maximizing full potential and every opportunity will improve your mental toughness within sports

Mental toughness is the ability to resist, manage and overcome doubts, worries, concerns and circumstances that prevent us from succeeding, excelling or performing well towards an objective or an outcome that we set out to achieve. As well, being able to resist physical pain or fatigue, and having the ability to stay open minded and adaptable. Check out our blog "15 ways to develop Mental toughness" for better in detail steps to creating the complete Mindset.

The mastery of our mind in key moments is due to resilience, self discipline, and on going adjustments. When we focus on what we can control, the external factors trying to add pressure or doubt will be ignored. Being able to stay positive, stay in the moment, and stay with the process, is the KEY to a strong mind. Many aspects of our self talk, routine, daily habits, and focus, lead into our success, but overall our mindset is what changes that focus. When we are invested in the moment with passion, and complete trust, the only aspect left to do is let it flow... If we do not get the desired results, then we must keep working hard on our craft. It takes time and dedication to create our dreams, but we have to be consistently working on ourselves. "Rome wasn't built in a day". So, focus on maximizing every day. Because "hard work beats talent, when talent doesn't work hard". Even if we have all the talent in the world, without mental toughness, our true abilities will never shine. Work hard, trust the process.

As athletes we are always trying to improve our skills and be better than our competition. But, our focus tends to be on the physical attributes and sometimes we leave out our Mindset. After going through the process of being an Elite athlete, it wasn't until later in my career that a huge emergence of mental toughness training and motivational mindset speakers started to emerge. For the most part coaches and parents would say "work on your swing", or "make sure your arm is loose" but they wouldn't say "envision yourself hitting a homerun", or "picture yourself stealing 2nd base". However, now a days at the amateur and elite level this type of thought process is starting to take precedence to be just as important as the physical warm-up. Mental imagery is CRUCIAL for seeing positive results and staying positive in pressured situations. It's easy to believe everything will go well, but when the game turns full speed, only muscle memory and split second decisions can alter the results. If you want your subconscious mind to respond correctly, then pre-game mental imagery is VITAL!

When it comes to training our mind for success in athletics, we must have the mental resilience in order to push our physical body past the points of fatigue or soreness to ensure maximum performance and results. Usually, this can be improved on by conditioning and consistent efficient hard training, but we can not leave out mental toughness training through other means than physical conditioning. These include: meditation, yoga, mindfulness techniques, breathing techniques, problem solving riddles/games, puzzles, and more.

Just like any other component of physical training, it takes time to improve on mental toughness skills. To help anyone improve their routine and athletic performance we have 7 Mental toughness techniques that are guaranteed to boost performance.

Here are the 7 simple mental toughness techniques to boost peak performance in a athlete

1) Meditation

Meditation is amazing for connecting our body and mind. It allows us to reach a deeper level of consciousness due to allowing our body to just observe all its senses freely and honestly without any judgement. We have to be open to whatever flows through us, and embrace those thoughts or emotions in the moment because they are there for reason. Whatever is popping into our head at the time is a sign that we may need to let go of certain things, or focus more in that direction, but everything happens for a purpose, and we find the best answers to our lives from within. Meditation is the best way to tap back into the present moment when life seems sped up, or "heavy". It brings us back into harmony with our higher self and creates real consciousness. When we are conscious, we live smarter, healthier, and more in the moment.

This is very important in athletics because we need a present moment focus and the ability to move on from failure or success while continuously staying locked into the present. Athletes who can do this are next level, and typically stand out amongst their peers. Having a better mind body awareness is what separates the greats from the other pros. Muscle memory and "feel" is crucial for success in athletics, so having a better connection mentally to our physical senses will give you a step up on your competition.

For more insight on the power of meditation, check out our past blog "importance of meditation and brain waves we can tap into"

2) Yoga / Mindfulness

Just like meditation, yoga brings together the awareness of our body and mind while developing improved mobility, stability, balance, and flexibility. Yoga is excellent for creating neuro-muscular connections that help with body awareness in any activity. Yoga in my opinion is meditation in motion, because the mind has to be present or the practice will feel sloppy and out of sync. Consistently practicing Yoga allows for enhanced connections between what's "real vs feel", and that's a big part of athletics. The more we can perform correctly by feel, the better success we can have for real :)

3) Breathing techniques

When we look at elite athletes, we can see the conscious effort of controlling their breathing can make or break their psyche in times of extreme focus or endurance. We can push ourselves through many challenges just by controlling our breathing, and this is demonstrated by Wim How, who can endure extreme cold temperatures for hours on end by controlling his breathing and mindset. The two are very inter related, and when we learn to control one, the other tends to follow suit.

Within my sports career, I always focused on taking deep breaths in order to calm my nerves and make smarter decisions. Controlling my breathing always made me seem slightly more in the moment and seemed to slow down time. Athletics are all about split second reactions, and any way we can perceive to slow things down is a bonus. If we do not focus on being completely relaxed in our mind, then our body will not be able to react quick enough with muscle memory decisions. This is due to the lack of control towards our focus or lack of mental toughness. Breath control can completely make or break an athlete in pressure situations, and is a key factor that separates amateurs from pros.

A breathing technique I find very helpful in athletics is a 4-2-8 method. This is only needed in times when extra tension or anxiety can spike, and it will maintain a steady HR with less sporadic actions. This technique can be used for a few repetitions in key moments or for 5-10 minutes prior to competition. Either way it's very effective and helpful in staying calm during pressured situations.

For more breathing techniques to help with calming the mind and body check out our recent blog "Breathing techniques and ways to reach deeper levels of tranquility"

4) Mental imagery / envisioning success

If we don't see it, it's harder to believe it... Mental imagery helps create the results we our desiring by envisioning it already taking place. This helps align confidence and trust in our abilities because we have more belief it is now achievable. The subconscious mind is very strong in taking over from our conscious actions, and typically in sports we are more in our sympathetic nervous system which is governed by adrenaline and "fight or flight" reactions. Therefore, muscle memory will be KEY for performing when everything is actually game speed. When we see ourselves ahead of time performing the task or making the right play, it gives us a precursor to what may happen. This creates better preparation for every play. Constantly envisioning the next play is the only way to execute to the best of our ability because we have an idea or plan of what the possibilities may be to come.

When I was playing baseball, before games I would take 10-15 mins after batting practice in silence and reenact chasing fly balls, taking leads on base, properly stealing bases, and seeing different pitches based on the scouting report for the day. This helped make the plays feel second nature because I already had an idea of what could or will happen. Plus, during the games, as new situations arise, in between each pitch I would already envision routes to fly balls in any direction or what bag I will need to throw too, so when it happens in a split second, I knew how to be efficient and make the smart play.

5) Mind games

Games are great for switching it up and doing something different. Regardless of what the game is, as long as it helps improve problem solving skills, rational decision making and improving decision making speed, it will be beneficial for improving mental toughness. The mind is clearly just as important as the physical for progressively improving. But, the benefits are amazing because they enhance skills that play into the physical of athletics. Some examples are chess, sudoku, crossword puzzles, card games, and luminosity. Each of these require patience, memory, open minded thinking, quick decision making and keen problem solving. Those skills are huge for maximizing athletic performance, and something that athletes shouldn't over look. Typically the best performers are not always the best athletes or the most talented. But their mental toughness and skills allow them to maximize their potential which in times out performs better talent.

6) Cold showers

Cold showers have widely been used for vast sports in physical recovery. The benefits are also great for our mental toughness. It teaches us how to be comfortable in uncomfortable situations. It forces us to control our breathing, calm down our HR and relax our mind as it keeps saying "GET OUT" haha. But, nonetheless it is a technique that is proven to bring us back into the present and create a resilience for uncomfortable situation, which is inevitable during elite sports. Imagine the game is tight, score is tied and there is only a few minutes or outs left in the game. These situations are uncomfortable, but we must learn to stay calm and still execute. We definitely know those truly resilient athletes who rise to the occasion and shine above the rest as others begin to crack or fold under pressure. Some examples are Tiger Woods, Michael Jordan, Usain Bolt. This skill is from years of trusting the process and believing in their ability. The work must be put in, but if you train hard and build up enough experience, eventually the confidence will keep increasing and the mental fortitude will be excellent.

7) Motivational Music / Hype video

Music is very powerful in persuading people to dance, sing, cry or a variety of emotions. But of course it can be used for motivation. Typically most athletes have their go to game day or pre-game playlist that pumps them up and gets their psyche to were they need to be. This is an important piece of mental toughness because it creates confidence and trust. Two crucial pieces of mental toughness. An old cliché is "look good, feel good, play good" Music is a part of the "feel good" section and is very useful in uplifting an athlete to their best performances. It may be to keep them calm, or to get them amped. But whatever works for improving your performance is all that matters. I use to watch Eric Thomas and Les Brown speeches to give me a different perspective that helps me seize the moment. Then once my mind was locked in, I'd play some upbeat favorite songs to stay relaxed and in tune with "feeling good". Music is a part of who we are, so find those motivating videos or music that will help boost your confidence and trust in your abilities. Feel good, have fun!

Just remember, anyone who has achieved amazing feats, took years of lessons, micro failures, setbacks and a complete dedication towards their passion in order to master their abilities. But, their mindset is what allowed everything to link together. Staying in the moment and going with the flow, allows us to make smart decisions on the fly. Self accountability is vital for consistency and elevation. Without it, our mental toughness has no foundation. Toughness means much more than withstanding physical pain and suffering. It also refers to our strength for making good habits, smart decisions and productive routines that allow us to reach our full potential. The ability to maintain strong will, deep focus, and a positive growth mindset, is true Mental Toughness. As athletes we need to always be improving our skills on and off the field, and adding in these 7 techniques will definitely help boost your performances and opportunities for success. Once you implement these improvements into your routine your sports performance will improve to its peak potential.

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