Training is a key element for any form of success. No long-term sporting achievement is attainable without a significant investment of time and effort in well-designed practice. Despite this many people still focus on physical training and do not place the same importance on training their mind. Three areas are important to consider when looking to develop mental toughness through training; using long-term goals as a source of motivation, controlling the environment and pushing yourself to the limit.
“Life gets difficult, training gets difficult, but the mentally tough athletes know exactly why they’re doing it…They know what their goals and aspirations are and why they are putting themselves through the hard work”
Using long-term goals as a source of motivation
Focusing on your long-term goals is an important element which can help you avoid being distracted with the inevitable ups and downs of any sporting endeavour. Not only can short-term failures or injuries be distracting and disheartening, but short-term successes can also be detrimental to achieving your long-term goal if they lead to any form of complacency. This can be an issue if you have a run of good results and start believing more positive results will easily follow – as a consequence you may take your focus away from the hard work and dedication that brought the wins in the first place. Many an athlete has been thrown off track after some early successes and failures.
Having your long-term goal firmly in mind, will not only help you get through the challenges of training, but will keep you on course through the ups and downs you’ll encounter along the way. It is imperative to have the patience, discipline, and self-control with the required training for each specific developmental stage to allow you to reach your full potential. Invariably, you’ll be working on a number of different aspects of your sport, be it technical, tactical, physical or psychological. There are a number of different components within each of these that you’ll be working on at the same time. For example, in the technical component a track and field athlete might be working on their first step out of the blocks, the transition to full height and speed and their arm movement. Each of these technical components might have different challenges. It is likely that some parts will come together more easily for you than others and it’s vital that you draw on the qualities of patience, discipline and self-control for the more challenging parts – similarly you may find some psychological components take longer for you to progress with than others, be patient and trust the process!
Controlling the environment
Elite performers are not passive when it comes to their sport or training regimes. The mentally tough performer gains as much control over their training preparation as possible, remaining in control with a strong sense of independence in training including decisions about their approaches to training and the training environment. It is important to try to use all aspects of a training environment to your advantage, even if it’s a difficult environment. Mentally tough performers are not swayed by factors in training that they can’t control – they focus on controlling the controllables and view uncontrollable factors as challenges to overcome rather than as the reason for their failure. One successful performer illustrates this beautifully…
“At training camps you don’t always get things your way. You’ve got to be able to train with other people in the training environment there. It may not be ideal for you but you’ve got to deal with that and use it to your advantage. The Mentally Tough performer can handle any environment he is put in and use it to his advantage”
Mentally tough performers filter positively, focusing on the things that will help them achieve their objectives without getting distracted by ‘noise’ and the things that they perceive to be detrimental to their success. MYND coach Roberto worked with a Premier League soccer team who were struggling against relegation. On first meet he noticed the focus of the team was on blaming everyone and everything around them for the position they were in. There was a distinct lack of personal responsibility for their predicament. Eventually three senior players decided to open up and say that the club were in the position they were because the majority of the squad were not acting professionally and putting the effort that they needed to into their training. This honesty proved to be a tipping point in the season, and led to an incredible turn around in form. By taking ownership of what you do in training everyday, you’re benefitting from the awareness that you know what needs to be done, and that you’ve done it to the best of your ability.
A world-class performer recently said:
“Mentally tough performers must exert control in pressure situations. They’re in control of their destiny, they can grab the situation and shape it according to what they want to happen as opposed to being externally controlled”
Pushing yourself to the limit
Another characteristic of mentally tough performers is that they can continually push and challenge themselves to improve and welcome the parts of a training regime that most others might avoid or dislike. In many respects high-achievement in any domain is about ‘Being comfortable being uncomfortable’.
Embracing the bits of training that hurt
Successful athletes learn how to push back the boundaries of physical and emotional pain, while still maintaining technique and effort under distress. One successful athlete described it by saying..
“To know that you’ve done as much as you can…yeah, it’s the part I love about being an athlete, pushing yourself as hard as you possibly can and challenging yourself mentally through that”.
Nick Bollettieri has coached some of the best tennis players in the world and also, hundreds of players who’ve not made the grade. So what’s the difference? Nick knows what it takes when he tells the media “No one becomes a successful player without paying the price in practice”. Tennis icon, Virginia Wade reinforced this message when she said…
“Spend more time preparing and less time regretting”
Now consider your own training attitude and ask yourself – are you willing to pay the price in training for success in the competitive arena?
Thriving on opportunities to beat other people in training
Most high-performers are highly competitive and they want to show they’re better than everyone else at every opportunity; even in training. The more mentally-tough thrive on opportunities to beat other people and are not afraid to put themselves on the line. They’re extremely competitive with themselves, as well as with others. They love to compete and would try to establish a competitive environment in training to maximise opportunities to learn to find ways to win.
Think of times you’ve pushed yourself to the absolute max. What were you thinking at the time?
Whilst you were going through a challenging drill or exercise, what was it that got you through?
In your general day-to-day training does your coach or manager have to incentivise you to really push yourself to the limit or is that something you do yourself?
Take time to review your training regime.
Approach the parts of training that hurt the most as the components that will give you the best gains. Next time your coach gives you a really demanding practice, when you’ve finished, ask if you can do extra! Next time you’re pushing the boundaries, remind yourself of your long-term goals and the fact that your competitors might just stop a little earlier than you will today. It’s a nice thought and one you can bring into competition.