As I was driving to work one morning, watching the sun gracefully rise, I came upon a thought: our whole lives have a common thread centered around rising and falling. The sun rises in the morning and “falls” in the evening, we arise in the morning, and we fall asleep at night. The tides rise and fall with the gravitational pull of the moon. Our bodies are fuelled by homeostasis; a process of balancing out the rise and fall in temperature and aspects of nutrition. Our lives are a series of ups and downs, everyday. In order to be successful we must learn to rise and fall with a steady mind.
John Wooden preached emotional stability to his players. He didn’t want them to get caught up in success or failure. He didn’t believe in highly emotional “pump-up” speeches during pre-game because he wanted his players to stay level headed. He also didn’t allow his players to become emotionally distraught after a mistake. He believed in balance.
This steadiness in the face of success and failure encompasses the meaning of mental toughness. “It is recognizing that you are going to make mistakes, sometimes costly mistakes, but you tough it out and do the best you can anyway”, as Jim Thompson describes in his book Positive Coaching.
In games like baseball and softball mental toughness is crucial. They are games of failure; success in these sports is defined as failing more than you succeed. A highly respected batting average is .400, failing six times out of ten. Most major leaguers who are considered big time hitters only have averages in the .300 range, failing seven out of ten times. The game is slow, which allows you to dwell on the failures. As a defensive player you could experience multiple innings, or even games, after an error before getting the chance to make a successful play again. How would it look if we took these failures to heart? What if we simply gave up every time we swung and missed? What if, as children, we gave up every time we “failed” when learning to walk? We would never improve.
Athletes need to build up their mental toughness to get to the next level. They need to experience success and failure with grace so they can hone their skills and discover their full potentials.
A golden opportunity to challenge a players’ mental toughness is on the mound in a situation where the pitcher is struggling. As a coach you can approach the mound and challenge the pitcher to improve their mental toughness. “This team thinks they have you backed into a corner because you are starting to struggle. Do you think you can work on your mental focus and keep hitting your spots instead of letting them get to you?” Switching the focus to improving mental toughness is a beneficial strategy in helping athletes to develop mental capabilities. It may also improve performance, and allow the athlete to succeed in a tough situation. Sometimes changing an athletes’ perspective or focus allows them to perform more naturally because their mind is distracted from scrutinizing every technical aspect of their performance.
Help your athletes fail and succeed with grace. Help them to ride the waves of sport performance instead of getting washed out with tide by giving them opportunities in challenging situations to improve their mindset.
Quote of the Day:
“You can’t let praise or criticism get to you. It’s a weakness to get caught up in either one” – John Wooden