Mental toughness is the ability to do what needs to be done right now. Mentally tough competitors get more satisfaction from their time at practice and in competition than others because they know how to enjoy the game and its challenges. Their consistency makes them a coach’s favorite and somebody their teammates can rely on. They are team leaders who always give their team a chance to win.
Tough athletes have the courage to do what is difficult and the confidence to be comfortable in a situation that would make others uncomfortable. They do not allow themselves to get frustrated because they will not accept those major ups and downs that most (overly emotional) athletes have. They find a way to keep their mind and body close to their ideal performance state. They find a way to do their job!
So how do you acquire mental toughness? You have to know your job to do your job and no one is born with all the details. You must look for answers and be willing to guess so you can find out what works. Every time you take action with positive expectations (even through the inevitable adversities) and give your best effort, you are practicing your mental skills and improving your mental toughness.
There are no shortcuts. However, there are many tools for your mental skills toolbox that can accelerate progress, like the word “opportunity.” Listen to the top professional athletes in interviews after they did well and you will find this theme. They were thriving on the opportunity.
How mentally tough are you? Do you know how to imitate the thought patterns of the greatest athletes in the world? Do you know how to move beyond normal, move beyond trying hard to consistently giving your best effort? If you are going to get rewards from softball that most other girls will not get, you are going to have to do things that most other girls are simply not willing to do!
Performance comes from the combination of your physicals skills and your mental skills. Physical skills include speed, strength, genetics, and mechanics. Mental skills is an umbrella term that includes everything else that affects performance such as attitude, focus, courage, teamwork, strategy, imagery and confidence. How important is the mental side of the game? Most professional athletes say it is at least 80% of the equation. Whatever the number, you know that your ability to deal with “failure,” be in the moment, and trust your stuff is a difference maker. So here is an important question: how much time do you spend… how much of your attention in training is dedicated to improving your mental skills?
If you are normal, you are spending most of your time thinking about mechanics, training physically, and you are missing out on some opportunities to train your mental game. Perhaps you are not building your mental toughness as quickly as possible because you have not been exposed to the details about how to do it. If so, it is time to take the bull by the horns and find out how to get what you want from the game that you invest so much into.
You improve your mental skills when you work smart. Many people practice their drills, run their sprints, and lift their weights. Very few people are willing to pay attention to the details so they can figure out more about themselves and more about the game.
Even fewer will do what it takes to apply everything they learn. Simply put, it is great news that both trying hard and giving your best effort are difficult, because this allows you to get an edge by being willing to do what others will not do!
One of the first principles to remember is that, “All you can do is all you can do” and “All you can control is all you can control.” You cannot control other people, the weather, or the past. Getting upset about a mistake by yourself, a teammate, or an umpire is normal, but it is not useful. What you can control is yourself, including how you respond to challenges, what attitude you practice and perform with, and how fast you learn. Are you learning to be relaxed, confident, ready to go, committed to the plan, and focused one pitch at a time? You can be if you will think like a scientist does by experimenting for answers and making learning more important than your results today. You can leave normal far in the distance behind you by making it a habit to give your best effort one step at a time.
Rate of learning is critical. Every opportunity on the diamond can teach you more about what works and what does not. Because you are mentally tough, you are not merely going through the required motions, you are testing your hypotheses and paying attention to the results. Obviously learning more means that over time, you will win more than others. Your consistent hard and smart work through all the adversities of life (er… softball) is your edge. Stay relentless in your pursuit of excellence by doing common things like running, throwing, catching, and hitting in uncommon ways. Enjoy your job, learn your job, and do your job!
|Aaron Weintraub holds a B.A. from Emory University (1993) and a M.Ed. from the University of Virginia (2000). He served as an assistant baseball coach for 13 years before starting www.CoachTraub.com, a consulting business whose mission is to over-deliver value on goods and services designed to help you win the mental side of the game. He works with teams and individuals, adding clarity to help them get what they want for their sport. CoachTraub.com also runs camps and clinics and has an online store.Weintraub is the author of Coaches Guide to Winning the Mental Game (Coaches Choice, 2009) and An Elite Athlete’s Manual for Training Mental Skills (self-published, 2011). He lives in The Colony, TX with his wife, Nicole, and their four children.|
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