Mental toughness vital in sports


Increased stress of competitions can cause athletes to react, both physically and mentally, in a manner that can negatively affect their performance. This may cause sports personalities to be tense, worrying about the outcome of the competition and, at the same time, they may find it hard to concentrate on the task at hand.

More so, stress in sport can leave athletes and sport teams vulnerable and/or exposed and this is not good for the development of sport. Accordingly, psychology in sports can be used as a weapon to allow the athlete to relax and to focus their attention in a positive manner – on the task of preparing for and participating in a competition.

This is so since sports performance is determined by a combination of physiological factors, technical skill, tactical insight and the state of mind. All these four factors are critical for sports personalities to peak performance.

More so, in a world where many athletes are physically, technically and tactically increasingly similar, it is the mind which offers perhaps the greatest scope for a competitive advantage. Every top sportsperson knows that their best performances come from their mind as much as their body. This is the reason why Roger Staubach, a former quarterback for the Dallas Cowboys once said: “All of us get knocked down, but it is resiliency that really matters.

“All of us do well when things are going well, but the thing that distinguishes athletes is the ability to do well in times of great stress, urgency and pressure.”

Consequently, the best athletes constantly strive to find improvement in their game by becoming stronger, faster, and mentally tougher. Believing in the power of mental toughness, former American football coach, player and executive Vince Lombardi once stated, “Mental toughness is essential to success.”

Lombardi was right since mental toughness is essential because it builds confidence in players and confident teammates build a confident team. Dr. Shree Advani (PhD in sports psychology), emphasizes on the importance of ‘positive state of mind’ which is crucial for a sports person at any level.

Advani says: “It is extremely important for a sportsperson to be in a positive environment which helps them feel positive. The mind plays a vital role in how successful an athlete will ultimately become.” What Advani implies is that mental strength and toughness are the cornerstones of any athlete’s journey to success.

Consequently, it is the role of psychologists to help athletes and they can help athletes deal with problems of excessive anxiety, self-confidence and teach control through goal-setting.

Sadly, sports administrators in countries within and across Africa put very little attention around mental toughness. They prefer to use juju rather than focusing on mental training. This is the reason why juju is a common practice in African sport.

Instead of using juju, sport administrators should prioritise mental training and that training should focus on learning to induce control and use an alternative state of consciousness for rest, recovery and effective self-guidance.

This means that stakeholders in sport should organise sport psychology conferences to raise awareness on the importance of mental toughness.

More so, clubs should hire sports psychologists and mental game coaches since they look at athletes who perform best under pressure, and other athletes who weaken as the pressure builds.

It is also important that both coaches and athletes seek sport psychology articles to find methods to improve their mental game and ability to deal with competitive stress. This is so because mental training helps athletes and coaches to deal with chronic pressures of training, travel and extended competitions.

Importantly, mental coaching should not be a substitute for practice or any other type of coaching but it is a supplement. Because of this, sport federations should invest in sports psychologists and good coaches since they put players in a position to succeed over and over again.

October 2013
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