Training in Mental Toughness

Mental toughness is having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to generally cope better than your opponents with the many demands (competition, training, lifestyle); specifically, be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure.

The late John Wooden once said, “You can’t have confidence unless you are prepared.” Much of our players’ lack of mental toughness (i.e., lack of focus, confidence, and control under pressure) is simply due to a lack of preparation.


As a coach, it’s now clear to me why Coach Wooden spent the first 10 minutes of the first practice teaching his players how to put on their socks. It was a lesson in the attention to details. Attention to details results in proper preparation. Preparation produces focus and confidence. Focus and confidence produce mental toughness. Mental toughness produces a winning mentality.

And now you’re probably wondering, “So how exactly do I develop mental toughness in my players?” Let me offer several suggestions:

  1. Teach, over and over and… Do your players understand what habits are essential for success? Have you communicated those things to them? As a teacher, I’ve realized that my students don’t get most of what I say in my first explanation. Why should I expect my players to be any different? Teach, then repeat, repeat, repeat.
  2. Help players focus on the process of improvement rather than the outcomes. Win or lose, players must 1) learn from both failures AND successes and 2) exhibit an unwavering level of effort and intensity. In order for this to occur, we as coaches must point out the positives and improvements seen in players’ performances. In addition, we must demand excellence and maintain high expectations for players. As for the effort and intensity…
  3. Constantly emphasize appropriate “attitude and effort.” We encourage our players to focus on what they can control. Opponents’ abilities, officials, and other outside forces – those things are out of our control. Focus on what you can control: your attitude and effort.
  4. Develop a motivational climate that fosters mental toughness. This is accomplished by creating an environment in which task mastery, self-improvement, effort, and dedication are encouraged and rewarded.

Do you have any tips for developing mental toughness? Comment below and share your suggestions!


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