Mental toughness - the practise of champions!

- by Roger Friesen

(Part 1 of a series of articles on mental training)  

Mental toughness!  What does it mean to a competitive athlete?  Can anyone be mentally tough, and if so, how? 

The discussion on mental toughness has been part of sport performance since the first two individuals decided to compete against each other.  In the past 15 to 20 years however, interest in this issue has intensified.  More and more athletes at all levels of ability are realizing that mental toughness is critical to their physical performance. 

Mental toughness means commitment - going to practice on a regular basis, prepared to work hard.  It means you go for training runs on days when jogging is the last thing you want to do.  Mental toughness is being part of the short corner defensive team with the attitude that, no matter what, the ball will not even reach the net.  Mental toughness is the ability to remain completely focused and composed when you are part of the penalty stroke competition to decide a winner.  Mental toughness is an attitude.  You take it with you into every situation. 

Everyone has some degree of mental toughness.  We all have a point at which we falter -when a situation begins to negatively affect our performance.  Here is the first indicator that mental toughness is being challenged. 

Anyone can train to improve their current level of mental toughness.  The most common techniques include visualization, relaxation, energization, self-talk and goal setting.  Of these, visualization is the most commonly used. 

Visualization is the process of seeing in your mind what you want to accomplish.  A common form is what typically happens after a game, when you sit around with your teammates discussing certain great plays (or bad plays) made during the game.  What's really happening is that you are using visualization to re-create what happened on the field. 
You can use this same technique to prepare yourself for an upcoming game.  Visualize yourself in various situations (especially ones in which you often find yourself rattled).  See yourself responding the way you would like.  Visualize the kinds of plays you wish to make, how you want to respond to different challenges.  Visualization is a simple way of building confidence, of connecting your physical performance with your mental idea of a champion! 
With time and practice, the skill of visualization can become a powerful tool to help you improve your athletic performance!

Roger Friesen works as an educator and consultant in the area of Sport Psychology.  He has worked as a mental training consultant for athletes at all levels in various sports.  Roger has worked closely with the Canadian Men's National Field Hockey team for the past 3 years.