ATHLETE MENTAL TOUGHNESS, SPORT PSYCHOLOGY; first published 9/17/2009; updated, edited and republished 4/15/2013 and 8/20/2018.

Rules of the Game, Rules of Life and Obedience Count.

We’ve all heard in a coach’s post-game interview “we just weren’t tough enough tonight”, “we got to get tougher” and other references to their “athletes’ inadequate toughness”. Coaches throw that word, Toughness, around frequently. Self-centered, intimidating coaches seldom say “I haven’t coached-them-up as I should have coached them”.

Unfortunately, Coaches who yell, scream, berate, embarrass and bully their own Athletes, relentlessly, with negative comments are verbally and emotionally Abusive. They set the tone for their own Athletes who then are Verbally Abusive toward opponent Athletes. Coaches’ verbal attacks rub off on Athletes. If the Coach can do it, the Athlete should be able to do to opponent Athletes and teammates? Right? But not so fast.

Athlete Mental Toughness isn’t trash talking, bullying, cheep-shoting, threatening, terrorizing, harassing, thuggery, hoodlum-ing, violence, abusiveness or any act that is playing outside the rules of the game.

Most physical abuse begins with verbal abuse and aggression. Verbal combat can lead to physical assaults i.e. basketball undercuts and elbows, helmet to helmet football contact, bean balls in baseball etc. Bosch’s principles apply to Sports, as well. [A.]

Verbal Bullying in Sports often takes the form of talking smack and trash talk. It is a form of verbal abuse, and can lead to physical violence during sports participation. “Smack talk refers to inflammatory comments made by a person or team in order to insult, anger, or annoy opponents.” [C.] Verbal Bullying should not be allowed during Sports participation.

There are reasons that athletes have Mental Toughness. For starters, authentic, genuine Mental Athlete Toughness is multidimensional.

First, the Athlete must be gifted with a 5 Star Will To Win including other characteristics that will be discussed below. Secondly, the Athlete must have proper, positive motivation by the Coach. It takes both Athlete characteristics and a Mentor Coach.

Athlete Mental Toughness is the competitive advantage. When Athletes have Athlete Mental Toughness, rather than a Mental Achilles Heel, which diminishes success, they become champions.

Great Athletes are born with God given talents, skills. athletic ability and intelligence. but all no star to 5 star Athletes can manifest greatness when they manifest Mental toughness. They become determined to win, rather than afraid to lose.

Athlete Mental Toughness is underpinned with certain other characteristics. Mental Toughness is derived from the love, passion, soul and spirit for the game. Athletes have an innate desire to play the Sport, as only they can play the Sport.

Their passion is an extreme emotional feeling for the game, a ‘football spiritual high’, for example. The athlete plays for the love of the game and enjoys the aggressive play and self-denying physicality of the game or the perfected finesse. The athlete studies the game and is focused with his or her destination in sight without distracting obstacles while playing the game. Nothing impedes that focus. The Mentally Tough Athlete has mastered his or her sport I.Q.

Oh yes, there are million dollar athletes, with 10¢ attitudinal brains, who have inconsistent great performances and get arrested and suspended from teams and abuse women, but Great Athletes, honorably finish every game, and season, if not physically incapacitated from an injury not a ‘hurt’. They give their all for the team, lead their teams to victory in the 4th quarter and champions are mentally tough, dedicated, self-sacrificing athletes and are exemplary human beings.

  • When the Going Gets Tough the Mentally Tough get going
  • and the million dollar athletes + other athletes with 10¢ attitudinal brains stops going.
  • Then, Its on the athlete.
  • If the coach recruits their kind and turns a blind eye, its on the coach

Mentally tough Athletes have the following mental toughness characteristics. They are dedicated and committed to the Sport. They persevere when times are difficult. They are devoted to their Mentor Coach, the team and themselves. When the going gets tough the Mentally Tough get going.

Great Athletes are Determined. Their willpower is insurmountable. They have overwhelming grit. Self-Discipline and Self-Control are key. They are obedient to themselves, the Coach and Team. Athletes who are Mentally Tough keep their mouth shut, don’ trash talk and “let their balling do the talking”.

Great Athletes Don’t Dissipate and thus don’t waste their physicality and fritter away their Sport opportunity. They are always in Great Physical Condition. They don’t smoke tobacco and marijuana, don’t drink alcohol, get plenty of Rest and ingest Nutritious Foods and Drinks. They seize every moment to stay in top condition.

The Great Athlete is self-sacrificing, plays aggressively, maintains strict physical shape and stays in excellent shape year round. The athlete desires to be a player in something bigger than self, part of a successful team. The athlete places team victory first before personal achievement, while aware of the team’s success with the help of his/her personal accomplishments.

They are exceptionally diligent. They are very persistent about their Sport and thoroughly and meticulously work-out and practice and perfect their skills and assignments.

Great Athletes come with self-Motivation, Drive, Inspiration, Purpose, and Goals. Athletes know that they “can’t soar with the Eagles if they hoot with the Owls all night.”

“One who is determined and enterprising, regularly reaps rewards and a crown      Appropriately, everything that goes up, seasons, then naturally descends down                        But, when arrived, while soaring with eagles, if an ego diverts and turns around                       Who aloft then hoots, turns, parties with owls, suddenly whoops and tumbles to the ground.”

Athletes’ main competition comes from within. Each Athlete’s body is unique. No other individual has the same body, same skills or the same DNA and Genome. The inner challenge is to maximize one’s ability with the body equipment for which they have been blessed. No one can do it the way that the individual Athletes do it. A left handed shooter with cross dominance (a right dominant eye) will shoot the 3 as only his DNA and Genome can shoot it.

Mastering the inner challenge of how the Athlete does it better in Sports than others and defeats opponents during competition is extremely rewarding and intensifies the love-of and passion-for the game. Inner drive is monumental compared to the Coach driving the Athlete. Defining and delivering the Athlete-self is further strengthening and rewarding. Coach Pat Summit, former UT women basketball head Coach said you can’t beat trust into an Athlete; you have to Earn their Trust.

Athletes cannot endure if they play only to please parents, friends, or earn money. Therein becomes an emotional battle between pleasing self and pleasing others. Pleasing others rather than pleasing Athlete self with assignment execution and his/her Coach Mentor is temporary and fleeting.

The quest for Sport excellence is intrinsic. Playing Sport with confidence enhances the synergy of motor coordination. Playing out of fear of the Coach or any other fear compromises muscle and mental fluidity. Fear of the Coach inhibits agonist muscle memory and promotes antagonist muscle inhibition. With one eye on the sideline and the feared Coach, Superior Athlete Mindfulness, total concentration on assignment execution, is inhibited.

When the Great Athlete’s Architecture comes operational with the above equipment, the next important key to Greatness is honing and perfecting Mental Toughness.

Nick Saban, head football coach of the Alabama Crimson Tide, August 19, 2018, prior to fall camp, said to his athletes, “Metal Toughness is about, “What does it take to break you?” Said another way, what does it take not to break ?

“What does it take to break your focus; make you give in and quit.  Will your frustration from a missed assignment, from fumbling the football, a small ‘hurt’, couldn’t finish, break you and make you give in?

Saban said. “it’s s not the coach’s goal to break the football athlete, but help the player maintain his self discipline and have the mental edge.” He reiterated, “how much can you withstand? How far can you push yourself?”

Saban continued, “everybody has to challenge themselves to push it to the next level so that we can increase our mental toughness and discipline to sustain. Everybody here at Alabama knows, ‘When they fell out today?’ Maybe you didn’t fall out of practice physically, but when did you fall out of practice mentally? If you didn’t fall out mentally, that is the sign of your mental toughness.”

This reporter hesitates to further Saban’s discourse, but further I will.

Trust is the Core of Coaching. The mentor does not have to be an employed athletic coach but a parent, friend, minister or another confidant. Naturally it is better if the mentor is the designated athletic coach of the sport in which to participate.

The nucleus of Mental Toughness is a Mentor Coach of the athlete and his or her Coaching Philosophy. The Coach must cultivate respect in themselves and then EARN respect from the athletes and others around them.

The 4 R’s of Coaching are the backbone of Trust, are the keys of Positive Motivation and Athlete Mental Toughness. Trust must be established and earned by the coach over time. A coach cannot lead without enthusiastic followers. Athletes trust, respect and follow the Coach who Coaches with the 4 R’s of Coaching i.e. Respect, Responsibility, coach-player Relationship, Recognition.


I. Respect

Coaches have a duty for the protection, safety, health, care, welfare and Human Rights of their Athletes. They should have a devotion-to and the highest regard for the humanity of their Athletes. Coaches are to regard and recognize the human dignity of their players. Coaches must pay attention, be compassionate recognize Athletes’ human value. Coaches should be considerate of players and athletes by treating them as humans. Coaches should dutifully respect the human life of their Athletes.

“Do unto others as you would want others to do unto you.”

Primum non nocere – “First do no harm to human life.”

II. Responsibility

Coaches have an obligation of oversight for the Physical, Psychological (Emotional) well-being of their Athletes during the administration of their coaching duties. Coaches must develop and implement responsible coaching policies and standards of Safety 1st.

Coaches are accountable and hold an important position duty of Care for Child Athletes (<18) and Fiduciary duty of Trust and in post-secondary Schools have a duty of care for Youth Athletes (18+) .

Now, unlike before, Coaches and post-secondary Schools have a duty of care for Youth Athletes (18+), as well as Child Athletes (<18). Coaches have a designated authority for the proper care of All Athletes. see reference:  [Knapp vs Northwestern, United States Court of Appeals, Seventh Circuit.Nicholas KNAPP, Plaintiff-Appellee, v. NORTHWESTERN UNIVERSITY, an Illinois not-for-profit corporation, and Rick Taylor, Defendants-Appellants No. 96-3450. Decided: November 22, 1996]

The Core of Coaching is Trust.

III. Relationships

Coaches should develop a positive relationship with their Athletes and develop an excellent level of mutual understanding and trust with good interpersonal communication.

Devoting time for each player and Athlete, the Coach will develop a positive relationship learning about each Athlete’s Ambitions, Abilities and Skills. Coaches develop a positive relationship by taking a personal interest with plans and techniques for each Athlete’s individualized improvement of play.

Coaches who elevate themselves to ‘Managers’ are shooting themselves in the foot, when they relegate Interpersonal Athlete Relationships to Assistant Coaches. ‘Managers’ are impersonal and don’t realize Athletes’ potentials and limitations.

Lack of Interpersonal “hands on” before the games, during practice and elsewhere, transforms potential cerebral communication “clicking” with the Athletes to “failing to buy-in” and “clanging”. “Clicking and Clanging” are terms that describe psychiatric interview techniques.

Coaches who show-up to manage the game, as they managed their Athletes, in lieu of interpersonal “hands on”, often manage to start searching for another Coaching “position”.

IV. Recognition

Coaches should acknowledge and recognize Athletes when they accomplish their goals and execute their performance plans well. Special one-on-one notice and complementary attention to the Athlete will enhance the trust for the Coach and motivate the Athlete. A pat on the back or the butt goes a long way.

The skilled, experienced Coach grooms and polishes the Great Athlete. Athlete Mental Toughness is honed, perfected and inspired by a mentor, credible, truthful, and trustworthy Coach who coaches by the 4 R’s of Coaching.

The Coach must have the best interest of the athlete at heart to prevail in the mind of the athlete and their mental state, “toughness”. Some coaches, who are not in step with the prevailing concept of Athlete Mental Toughness, and, conversely, practice physical and psychological athlete maltreatment, give Athletic Mental Toughness lip service while they profess the awareness of its importance.

Trash talking, cheapshots, executting assignments outside the rules of the game they play for an advantage is Not Mental Toughness. Instead those methods are weakness and cowardice.

Negatively motivating coaches are convinced that Athlete Mental Toughness is achieved by over working, over practicing and physically and psychologically abusing their athletes.

Out of step, that coach will demand and command respect and mistreat their athletes in the process. They will play head games verbally, physically and emotionally for admiration, approval, esteem, prominence, success and winning. Its win-at-all-costs.

But, pushing athletes too far and crossing the line, they will waste some athletes physically and emotionally and ruin their careers. That coach will lose many games, because they lack athletes abiding their leadership, “buying in” which negates the concept of teamwork. Teamwork is the key to success; not brainwashing brutality that emphasizes tearing down and remolding athletes psyche.

Athletes today are not the lesser players link in Bear Bryant and Charlie Bradshaw’s days. In the ‘Ole’ days the only way from behind the plow in the cotton field was football in the Southeast. Hence, the lesser player as defined by Bear, who himself feared the Arkansas cotton fields. Nowadays, football players are student Athletes required to attend and pass their classes.

The mentally tough athlete develops a belief based on absolute certainty that he or she is better than their opponent. The mentally tough athlete “really wants it” more than their opponent and is not distracted by their own or their teammates mistakes.

The mentally tough athlete wants the pressure and never is critically negative about themselves. A negative mind set is not in them. They always want the ball or the challenge and are confident when they are the center of the action. If they miss a shot, throw an errant pass or fail some other execution, they quickly move on to the next play and never look back.

Negative motivation, playing out of fear of the Coach or some other fear is a Mental Achilles heel. Negativity will impair the proper muscle movement coordination and restrict athletic performance.

Athlete Mental Toughness allows the fluidity of muscle synergy during practice and during competitions, because the muscle agonists and antagonists are moving the extremities and athletic body parts as they should be moved together for successful athletic coordination, performance and assignment execution i.e. muscle memory is agonist muscle synergy.

Negative motivation will also impair the synergistic muscle movements that create superior performance. Positive coaching motivation, on the other hand, enhances the fluidity of athletic motions.

The mentally tough athlete always comes with their game, every game. They have mental and physical ability, a mindset that has been groomed by their mentor, coach, parent or person and a mindset that has been perfected with strength, courage, and a 5 Star Will To Win.

A Mentally Tough Team is comprised of Mentally Tough Coaches, who bring the best interest at heart for each Athlete and earned respect to the table and Athletes, who bring all the assets of Mental Toughness to the table. Mental Toughness is the competitive advantage

Coaches, Athletes and Team Mental Toughness are even tougher, when all bring wisdom from their faith to the table.

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