6 Keys to Developing Mental Toughness

Here is a list of my six keys to mental toughness:

  1. Creating Interest and Keeping It – I use a simple metaphor to build interest. I tell athletes to see sports participation like putting pennies in a piggy bank. Every time they show up to practice, that investment pays off with wins in the future. After students see their time as valuable, it is harder for them for them to quit or to give less than 100%. Your team will feel like they have invested so much, they will go the extra mile when the time comes to dig deep.
  1. Model/Encourage Consistency – Show your team what it means to have a confident attitude by continuing to do what you say you are going to do. Your athletes will see you as a consistent force in their life. They will want to honor that commitment by upholding their end of the bargain. Your team will have the tools to avoid the pitfalls of modern life, as they model your ‘show up’ consistency. Your team will see you as a beacon to follow, a consistent hero.   
  1. Proper Goal Setting – Develop the Why – Setting goals with your team allows you to define where you want them to go as a unit and as individuals. Without a clear destination, nobody gets where they want to go. Setting goals allows teams to judge progress and arrive at a specific destination.  Learning goal setting is one of the strongest benefits of any sports program. Athletes get tools that carry them far beyond sports. What it would be like to congratulate your team for reaching their goal of a championship season?     
  1. Expect and Prepare for and Dealing with Adversity – Learning to handle adversity is one of the key skills a human needs to learn. To become a high-achiever, athletes must learn to use tools for handling adversity. To be honest, achievement equates to adversity. True mental toughness comes from the ability to stay positive and on task at the worst of times. Teaching this to your teams will be a part of your legacy as a coach.
  1. Process oriented not ends oriented – Accomplishing goals is about achieving tiny things over time. Athletes learn that it’s not all about winning. It’s more important to show up and over time you will win through the application of the process. Focusing on the process rather than focusing on results fosters maturity. Establish a system to deliver small victories on a regular basis. These steps lead to guaranteed achievement.
  1. Hold Yourself Accountable and Steer From Excuses – Excuses allow athletes to veer from the process of achievement. Teaching accountability empowers students to lean into accomplishing their goals. This installs a tiny version of their coach in the student’s head. The ‘Tiny Coach’ challenges them to fight through adversity and steer clear of excuses. If you can teach a student to choose a positive road when an authority figure gives them a reason to quit, you will have turned a child into an adult.   
  1. Having and keeping the right attitude – The athlete with the best approach to his attitude will win every game, even if he gets outscored. Attitude is the foundation of every aspect of sports from training to game-day. Teaching attitude comes before you teach a kid how to score. If your kid has a bad attitude, you don’t have a player, you have a problem. We do not win by accident. Attitude gives birth to victory. It is in those moments where we have to dig into some untapped well of strength that we cross the line between student and champion.

Give the gift of grit, of learning to never give up. These things can be learned, just like we can learn to catch a ball or run a pass route.

Realize that mental toughness can be coached, learned, and applied!