How to Build Mental Toughness
Welcome to Q & A with Coach Rebecca. I’m Rebecca Smith, the founder and director of Complete Performance Coaching and the Perform Happy community – the complete online mental toughness training center for young athletes (and not so young athletes).
We have athletes of all ages in the community working on becoming the best version of themselves in their sports. We also have a team of highly skilled sports psychology experts at your disposal for one-on-one coaching as well.
Here we are in the summer. A lot of kids are getting out of school which means it’s time to relax, right?
The pressure’s off! You’re in the off-season, you don’t really need to train your body or your mind, right?
Well… anybody who trains year round (swimmers, gymnasts, and pretty much every club sport) doesn’t take the summer off. You might get a couple of weeks off, but then you spend a couple of weeks getting back up to speed. For the most part, you do not take the summer off of physical training if you’re in an elite or collegiate track sport.
So, why do people take the summer off of mental training? Why doesn’t it get worked into summer? I know a lot of great coaches who actually use this time to ramp up conditioning (strength training and flexibility) but then they forget about the mental training. The goal is to get coaches to start making summer a time of mental training too.
There’s No Better Time Than Now
I’m going to talk a little bit about why now is actually the best time for mental training. I get so many calls in January, right as the optional gymnastics competition season is kicking off. People reach out saying, “Help, my kid is competing on Friday! We’ve got to solve this fear thing!” I arrange to chat with them, but there’s nothing that we can do in one day that is going to knock out the problem permanently.
There is always a “band-aid” fix, but, if you want your kid to be confident and strong, fearless and passionate, driven and excited, and have the edge to actually be better than their competition, you’ve got to start before the competitions kick in.
Today I’m going to give you a sneak preview of my Mental Toughness Bootcamp course. This is one of the many courses you can find in the PerformHappy community.
I’ll give you a little rundown on the five things you can do to increase your mental toughness.
And if you want even more tips on things you can do to build mental toughness during the off season,
Download your Free copy of my Mental Toughness Checklist Here
Q: What is mental toughness?
Having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to cope better than your opponents with the many demands that sport places on the performer.
Naturally, there are some people who are more mentally tough. That is a fact. Some people thrive under pressure, have more confidence, a rosier outlook on life, and are more resilient.
This doesn’t mean that if you are not that person at birth you can’t become that person. Research shows you can develop these qualities in yourself, which allows you to be more consistent. It allows you to be more determined, focused, confident, and more in control.
Here is the gist of my Mental Toughness Bootcamp training (For those of you who are PerformHappy community members, you have full access to this):
It’s a six week course and it’s perfect to plug in right now at the beginning of summer and work through as you go through the next 5 weeks.
Getting Back Up when you Fall
I always think back to the girls I know who are competing under full scholarships at D1 gymnastics colleges, a huge feat. These are not the girls who happen to be lucky, who got the natural talent and just cruised on through.
These are the girls who show up and get up when they fall on their face, who pick themselves up and keep going. The girls (or guys) who don’t have that end up burning out, even if they are naturally talented, and even if they have a physical advantage. If they don’t keep picking themselves up and going along and getting through the rough spots, they do not get their dreams.
Good Vibes and Good Attitude
To become a champion, you have to have the flow of positive energy going in crisis times, not just in the good times. Not just in the summertime, not just when the stress is low. You have to have the good vibes flowing when everything’s hitting the fan and have a perspective that allows you to keep moving forward.
The good attitude is in regards to the problems, pressure, mistakes, and competition. No matter what comes at you, you’re able to see it in a way that allows you to learn from it, move forward, and get tougher and better.
Here are the five things you must have to get the good vibes flowing and get those big dreams within reach:
The whole Mental Toughness Bootcamp course is founded on research done on Olympic gold medalists. It showed certain characteristics that each of these world champion athletes had. One of them was unshakeable self-belief.
When Simone Biles walks into a gym, she doesn’t wonder if she’ll be able to pull it together. She walks in knowing she’s the world champion. Aly Raisman walks in the world champion. She hasn’t even competed yet, but she knows, without question, that she has what it takes.
In order to strengthen your self-belief, start by identifying those unique qualities and abilities you have that make you not just good, but actually better than your opponents.
What Makes you Amazing?
I know some of you who are perfectionists are thinking, “I’m kind of good at this but not that good,” or, “I don’t know that I could say I’m better.” I’m giving you full permission to brag a little to yourself.
You have to start thinking of it in terms of what makes you amazing. What would your coaches say? What would your parents say? What would your teammates say? If you really let yourself go there, what is incredible and unique about you that sets you apart? That’s what you have to be focused on. Not your weaknesses. Yes, you work on those in training, but you have to know you are actually uniquely set up for success in your sport.
You also need to be able to identify evidence that you can push through discomfort and start believing in yourself.
If you can recognize that you’ve had a horrible, difficult thing happen and you got through it, that means you don’t have to fear anymore. You know you have what it takes to get through it. So bring it on.
The more things that you can look at and say, “That was hard, I didn’t think I could get through that and I did,” the better. Then you can start to say, “Bring it on, life! Throw it at me. I know I can handle this!” This will strengthen your self-belief.
Put Your Pride on the Line
You also have to be able to put your pride on the line. For you perfectionists, (I know I’m always talking to you because I’m one too) we don’t want to look bad. We don’t want to not be liked or rejected; that’s the scariest possible thing. We don’t want to fail, let people down, or disappoint anyone. However, in order to truly build your self-belief, you have to be willing to fail. You have to be willing to go big.
I was just talking to a figure skater earlier today about what you have to do to be great versus good. She’s a good skater. She just got a personal best score and she’s doing awesome this season. But we talked about how good is actually the enemy of great.
She’s a little conservative because she really wants to be good and what she needs to do to be great is take more risks, go bigger, go faster, risk losing control, and risk falling. She has to take those risks to be able to become the great skater that her coaches know she can be. They know it, she knows it, but she has to believe it.
So maybe you’re one of those athletes that’s good, but you know when it comes to competition you hold back, you don’t go as big, you keep your power to yourself, and if you have a lead you start to get conservative. With those sorts of things you have to be willing to fail. You have to be willing to fall on your face to actually become great.
See the Positive Side of Failure
The last part of self-belief is being able to see the positive side of failure, mistakes, and rejection. It’s knowing you put it out there, fell on your face, and now you know what to do differently next time – not go small. That’s the first part of mental toughness that you have to have.
The second that we go over in the course is grit. Angela Duckworth is one of the leading researchers on this topic. She says that grit is the ability to work hard, endure struggle, fail, and try again; it’s the key to determining the long term success and happiness of humans.
If you are looking to be successful and happy, you can’t avoid failure. You have to work hard and keep picking yourself up. Hitting those hard times, hitting those walls and you continue getting up.
This quote about grit from Margaret Perlis is one of my favorites. She says, “Gritty people believe, ‘everything will be alright in the end and if it’s not all right it’s not the end.’ ”
Isn’t that cool? For those of you guys who are “hell or high water I will reach my goal,” and you haven’t reached your goal, do you give up? No, you keep going.
Don’t Give Up
I’m going to bring in another figure skating example here of my buddy Adam Rippon from the Winter Olympics. He had gone into two previous Olympic trials and got fourth place and just narrowly missed the team both times.
Now, 28 years old, he shows up at the 2018 National Championships saying the only way he’s not going to make this Olympic team is if the other skaters’ mothers are on the selection committee. He literally said that (and I kind of loved his diva factor). Adam said, “I am getting on that team. I don’t care that I’m 28 years old. I’m 10, 11, 12 years older than my competition. I’m getting on that Olympic team. I am not giving up until I do it.” And he did.
It was a sensation. He was a huge success. He even landed a gig as one of the NBC Olympics commentators. If he had just said, “I tried and too bad,” then he would never have gotten his Olympic experience.
Instead, he kept training and training, and he missed it. He trained some more and missed it again. He continued to train and he showed up one of the best trained athletes team USA had. Adam did not give up. If he didn’t make the team, that was not the end for him.
Being Courageous vs. Being Confident
Now, how to get more grit? Have courage.
Courage is different from confidence. Confidence comes from proving that you can do it: past successes, and people who know what they’re talking about telling you you’re ready. Confidence is more rational, where courage takes a leap of faith.
Confidence is I know I’m going to be okay, therefore I’m going to do it.
Courage is being afraid and doing it anyway. It’s taking a leap and taking a risk. Courage is here goes nothing! I want this! Let’s do it, let’s try it! What the heck!
You have to take those leaps of faith where you think, all right, let’s see what happens here. You must be willing to face fear.
Face Your Fears
Facing your fears requires getting out of your comfort zone and accepting criticism. These are all parts of courage and I know a lot of athletes right now in their downtime are not as motivated to come up against their fear. They’re getting stuck. They’re staying stagnant.
Well, now is the time. Your discomfort now is just as valuable as your discomfort during competition season, so walk into it. If you don’t have the motivation, well that’s later on in the Mental Toughness Bootcamp program, the passion. That’s the final bonus session that I threw in at the end.
Focus is about knowing both your internal and external distractions, knowing what comes up for you personally. Once you know your potential distractions, you learn how to redirect your attention to what matters. And then also training your brain to be able to be calm under any circumstance.
In this course, I teach all about mindfulness – how to meditate and how to refocus so that you can practice, practice, practice now. Then, when the storm of pressure and competition hits, you are ready. Your brain is ready to say, “Bring it on. I can handle this.”
The next one is passion. There are two types – harmonious passion and obsessive passion. Obsessive passion is something that gets athletes very far but often results in burnout. The type of desire that I want you guys to have is the type that’s an enthusiastic, good vibes type of passion. This is where you are empowering yourself every day, being around people who empower you, and filling your mind with empowering information.
Replace “Have to” with “Want to”
I give tons of tools on empowerment in the community. The main thing is being able to check yourself.
“OK I am talking myself down right now. Hold on. Flip it around. What do I need to focus on?”
Then, just knowing the warning signs of when you’re slipping into obsessive passion which sound like, “I have to do it. I have to be perfect. I have to do well, this is my last chance.” That sort of thinking versus thinking, “hey this is a cool challenge, now would be a great time to thrive. I really want this.”
Instead of “I have to,” it’s “I want to.”
“Get out of my way. I want to be here. I want that medal. Let’s do it!”
5. Creating Good Habits
The final building block for Mental Toughness is creating good habits, the most important of which is setting goals;
Knowing exactly what you’re aiming for today, this week, this month, this year is important so that you have a clear focus that you can believe in.
You have to have that unshakeable belief that you will reach your goals, so knowing what you’re aiming for every day is really important.
Have a Journal
I also teach about important things to journal every day. You want to be reflecting so you can be constantly increasing your awareness of yourself.
I have some guided meditations in the community that get you on the right track to starting to reprogram your brain. This really simple task that can seem overwhelming but it’s so easy, you just have to do it.
Alright everyone, that was my crash course on Mental Toughness Bootcamp and my plug for training your mind now – before you “need” it. Don’t wait until you’re stressed out.
You can get instant access to the Mental Toughness Bootcamp course (and all the other awesome courses) in the PerformHappy community.
Our free download this week is a copy of the mental toughness checklist which you can download here.
There are a ton of actionable steps that can help you unlock peak performance + maximum enjoyment in your sport. Grab a copy if you don’t already have one.
If you have questions, you can reach me at firstname.lastname@example.org. See you soon!