Developing Mental Toughness for Athletes

Tuesday, December 19, 2023

Primary Blog/Developing Mental Toughness for Athletes

Developing Mental Toughness for Athletes

Are you an athlete looking to develop mental toughness and resilience? Do you want to build the confidence and strength required for success in sports? mental toughness and resilience? Do you want to build the confidence and strength required for success in sports? If so, you are not alone.

Building mental toughness is essential for athletes of all levels to become successful in their sport of choice. In this blog post, we will discuss techniques that can help athletes increase their mental toughness and become more confident on the field or court.
Read on for tips on how to develop a stronger sense of focus, determination, dedication, and perseverance—the foundation components needed to reach peak performance as an athlete!

Mental toughness

Mental toughness for athletes can be broken down into four main components:

1. Confidence:

Developing confidence in your ability to perform is essential for success Working on setting goals, visualizing success, and recognizing failure as an opportunity to learn will help build confidence.

Confidence is developed through competence. If you know you have the skills you will be confident in executing them. If you are not confident in your skills this means you need to put in more work on developing your skills..

2. Discipline:

Being able to self-motivate, stay organized, and practice good habits all come down to discipline. Developing a plan that allows you to set achievable goals is key to staying on track with your training.

It takes discipline and consistency to develop your skills. Without discipline, you will not achieve mastery. Young athletes must be disciplined to reach an elite level.

3. Resilience:

Having the ability to quickly recover from setbacks or failures is essential for any athlete. Learning how to respond effectively, recognize mistakes as learning opportunities, and push through challenges are all essential for resilience.

4. Focus:

Being able to stay focused on the task at hand is critical when competing in sports. Athletic success requires focus. Athletes must learn to compartmentalize and learn how to deal with distracting thoughts.

This starts during training sessions and once mastered carries over into competition. Most athletes think that they can slack off in practice and when game day comes they will just flip the switch. It doesn’t work this way.

We do not rise to the level of our expectations, rather we fall to the level of our training. Your mental training is done in practice. If you can’t stay focused consistently during practice, don’t expect to be focused when it counts.

Mentally tough athletes are focused. This focus leads to consistent performance. Michael Jordan is a great example of an athlete that displayed a high degree of focus. If you want to build mental toughness then focus. This is in your direct control. Focus first on your athletic ability (your skills). Once you have the physical skills you will need to start developing the mental skills.

On game day you will also need to focus, this time on the present moment. You shouldn’t be worried about the next play or what happened last time. This is not easy but the more you are disciplined in making yourself focus then the faster your mental strength grows.

If you are having trouble focusing, try taking deep breaths and remember that most of the time as athletes our biggest enemy can be the negative voice inside our own heads.

Master the ability to focus and you will own mental toughness.

Mental toughness training (misconceptions and how to actually implement them)

There are a few key aspects of mental toughness training that can help athletes increase their performance.

1. Visualization:

Visualization is a tool that will to help you do the things that you already have the skills to do. Visualization is not a replacement for skill building.

Think of visualization as a mental game to improve your focus. Imagine this, you are a pitcher and you have walked the first 2 batters. Thoughts start creeping in your mind. Why is this happening? Is coach going to pull me? Why am I letting my team down?

With thoughts like these, I doubt the best pitcher in the world could perform. Visualization is the tool to quiet these thoughts.

Visualization is one of the mental skills you will need to fully apply the physical skills you have mastered. It will aid performance only when you have the skills in the first place. Visualization is hyper-focus.

A good movie that illustrates this in action is “For the Love of the Game” with Kevin Costner. He is a pitcher in the game and when the noise of the crowd or other things start to distract him. He “clears the mechanism” and executes. This is what visualization is about.

2. Meditation:

Meditation can help athletes increase their focus and reduce stress.

This is partially true. It is important to have time to rest and remember why we are doing something, and sometimes to do something else completely, just to give your mind a break.

Meditation will not build your skills. It may help with focusing some, but I am not convinced. If we take two athletes and one meditates 5 times a day and the other one works on improving skills during that time. I’m putting my money on the one that is putting in work, not the one sitting around.

3. Positive self-talk:

Talking to yourself in a positive manner can help keep you motivated and build confidence.

This is partially true. Negative thoughts and words to ourselves are our biggest enemies as athletes. The problem with positive self-talk is that we know if we are lying to ourselves. I can tell myself I am the best basketball player in the world, but I know it isn’t true.

Positive self-talk works, but we must be honest with ourselves if we are going to use it to build mental toughness. Instead of saying something that isn’t true, try saying something that is, execute on what you said, and then maybe that thing that isn’t true now will be in the future.

An example of this would be instead of telling myself I am the best in the world, I could tell myself “I am moving forward towards my goal of ______ by developing my skills and focusing on the present, a can achieve this goal through discipline, responsibility, and hard work.”

That is a believable and executable example of self-talk. Try adding this version to your mental training programs.

4. Goal setting:

Setting small achievable goals is a key success factor in becoming mentally tough. With each little victory, self-confidence will grow. Setting small goals is a mental game to help you stay motivated, and improve performance.

Motivation is required to develop mental toughness. Each time a performance goal or process goals are achieved motivation increases. This is followed by another round of goal setting. Each time an athlete does this they are building their skills and mental toughness.

So take responsibility and master the skill of setting small achievable goals. Ten minutes of planning will set you apart from other athletes. So set some small goals, get some wins and you will be on the path to mental toughness.

Physical training

In sports mental toughness is needed to build physical skills through physical training. These are sport-specific skills, strength, agility, etc. These are the things athletes need to be successful.

This is where you will be executing the small goals you set and getting small wins. Mental skills are needed to keep trying after you fail. Building your physical skills is how you improve and grow after failure.


Building your skills is the only way to develop self-confidence as it relates to mental toughness and sports psychology. This is not bragging or showboating, if you are the best you don’t need to tell anyone. The scoreboard will take care of that for you.

Mentally tough people are confident and they build this confidence through hard work. Remember we know if we are lying to ourselves, false confidence will not help us succeed. Often those who speak the loudest about how great they are, are the most insecure.

Click here to learn to walk with confidence..

Hard work

We have all heard the saying “hard work beats talent.” This is true, but what is equally true is the longer version.

“Hard work beats talent when talent doesn’t work hard, but when talent works hard you’re screwed.” If you don’t have all the natural talent you can go far with hard work. If you are talented, put in the work and you just might be the best in the world one day.

Process goals

Focus on these goals first. Remember we build mental toughness by getting small wins. A small goal could be to practice your dribbling with your off-hand for 10 minutes every day for the next week. Anyone can accomplish a goal like this.

Focus on the process of continual incremental improvement and you will have a solid foundation for building physical skills and mental toughness.

Performance goals

This is your second stage of goals. This is where you will start evaluating the skills you need and your proficiency in them. These are the things your process goals should be working to improve.

If your performance goal is to be proficient in dribbling with your off-hand, you would continue to execute on the previously mentioned process goal until you reached the level you needed to be on.

Performance goals will take longer to achieve. Athletes need process goals to get small wins and build mental toughness.

Outcome goal

Athletes are concerned with outcomes, but often, especially in team sports, they are out of the athlete’s control. While important if athletes only have this type of goal they will have a tough time.

Having only this type of goal can lead to a mindset of anxiety. A mindset of anxiety is caused when we are only focused on goals that are largely controlled by external factors.

The great news is we can reframe our goals and build mental toughness by shifting our focus to things we can achieve. Life is hard enough, don’t make your sport and life harder by setting the wrong goals.

Sports performance

This is where it all comes together. This is where all your hard work starts paying off. Remember if something goes wrong, reboot the system and start back with small goals and small wins.

Push yourself to play at a higher level than you are currently. If every day at practice is harder than competition day, then game day is just another day.

Click here to learn the 8 key successful athletes use mental toughness.


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Distraction, Resistance, and Victimhood

Defeating these three monsters is part of the mental skills needed for all athletes. You can read more about how to defeat them by downloading my free guide Conquering the Monsters.

If you enjoyed this article, let me know.

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Hi, I Am Chad Metcalf

My goal is to provide practical and actionable resources (that worked for me) to help you get from where you are to where you want to be. 

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