A lot of athletes, coaches, therapists, parents and sport psychologists embrace the
idea of mental toughness. It can sound like a good and useful concept. And it is valuable
for many athletes in many sports. I employ mental toughness techniques with many of
the people who I counsel in my practice.
However, for some athletes and for some sports, mental toughness can be an invaluable or counterproductive kind of thought.
Some athletes immediately become tense, rigid or anxious when you talk to them about being mentally tough or about mental toughness training. Being rigid, anxious,
tense or inflexible is not a good mind set for most sports.
Some players do better trying to employ ideas like mental creativity, mental
flexibility or mental gentleness. For example, one golfer I coached found that when he
thought about being tough on the course that he began to grip the club too tightly and
started to swing too quickly.
I suggested that he shift his philosophy aware from a mental toughness idea and
toward and mental gentleness where he was in touch with his body, the ball and the course. For him, the mental toughness idea was not working because he connected it
with tuning out distractions, when in fact he played better when he allowed himself, his
mind and his body to join with his surroundings.
When athletes come to see me, we are trying to help them to discover the mental gear which will allow them to play to their fullest potential. For some, mental toughness
is the right gear. For others, it is the wrong approach and we have to find another mental state which will work better for them.
A tennis player who I coached replace his stubborn mental toughness approach with an approach which included a good deal of levity, humor and lightness. This
shift improved his game significantly.