• Mental Toughness

    What is it?

    Toughness is the ability to consistently perform toward the upper range of your talent and skill regardless of competitive circumstances (Loehr & Schwartz, 2003).

    Attributes of mental toughness

    Emotional Flexibility – the ability to absorb unexpected emotional turns and remain balanced; able to bring a wide range of positive emotions (connected, joy, excited, challenged, energized) to the competitive battle (e.g., your “A” game power fade is not working – turn to your “B” swing or whatever swing works that day).

    Emotional Responsiveness – the ability to remain emotionally alive, engaged, and connected
    under pressure (e.g., make an up & down).

    Emotional Strength – the ability to exert and resist great force emotionally (e.g. finish strong on last day and on 16, 17, & 18) under pressure, and sustain a powerful fighting spirit against impossible odds with out taking an unresponsible risk.

    Emotional Resiliency – the ability to take a punch emotionally, overcome obstacles and bounce back quickly (e.g., bounce-back statistics).

    What is emotional resilience?

    Resilience is the ability to adapt, the capacity to bounce back from pressure. It is a strength, but not a rigid strength – rather one that is flexible and adaptive. Personal resilience is about how to adapt to the stress and pressures of life in the best way possible, while maintaining a state of optimal health and well-being. Given the increasing stress and pressure that you will all encounter this year, we can all benefit by being more resilient. Personal resilience training is all about proactively preparing ourselves to meet the inevitable demands of the stresses of life/competition, to be ready for the challenge, and having the attitude that says: go for it!

    Periodization and the Cycle of Optimal Performance

    First, the key to pacing ourselves properly is to understand that optimal training and performance is not maximal training. Second, that optimal health and peak performance is really a repetitive cycle of preparation, activity (training & competition) and rest. By all means, continue to work hard in training, but realize the key to peak performance is to prepare beforehand and rest more effectively afterward.

    The message for us athletes is better management of our downtime (meaning our preparation and rest strategies). In other words, we need to realize that peak performance is not an event, it’s a process, whereby emotional flexibility, responsiveness, strength and a built-in plan for recovery contribute to our ability to be resilient and respond to competition challenges

    Resilience and the art op periodization

    Emotional Resilience and peak perfomance

    The golf course provides a marvelous laboratory to study physical and mental resilience and our emotional responses to stress. A good golf match is much more than an exchange of technically good swings/strokes, it is an interplay of emotional momentum up and down through the 18 holes. With the extreme pressure of competition, relatively small personal deficiencies can become large performance problems. It is under this kind of pressure that we see what separates peak performers from the rest of the pack and also see what strategies can really make a difference. In the final round of stroke or match play, it is not necessarily the technically best player that wins, but rather the one who is most emotionally resilient and mentally toughest. When speaking about the fifth set in the Wimbledon Championship match, Boris Becker, has said, “It is not about playing tennis.” “It is about getting in the right state of mind.” That is why, I urge you to concentrate on the things you can control (routines, breathing, imagery, self-talk, etc.), not what you can’t. Rather than trying to control the outcome of a competition and winning a tournament, I suggest you focus on your process (e.g., pre-competition and competition plans/routines) and your emotional response to the competition. Your immediate goal is to execute your competition plan and maintain your competition focus – this you have control over – rather than win the competition. The by-product of good preparation is a solid performance which may result in a podium finish! In pressure situations, as in all competition, the real battle is within, not without.

    Emotional control is a key component of mental toughness training. Emotions are like a double-edged sword. They can greatly enhance our pleasure in life and the ability to perform, or they can distract us and disturb us to the point of being painful. We can all benefit from developing our emotional muscle and finding ways to harness the power of positive emotion. Jimmy Connor’s statement, “It’s a war out there,” not only applies to tennis, it is also appropriate for every sport, (read “Art of War” by Lao Tsu). Developing your emotional resilience will enhance your mental toughness and help you gain mastery of your emotions leading to personal resilience under pressure.

    Focus on the Process

    Athletes can restore their confidence and resilience by concerning themselves with what can be controlled. This is what we call a process focus that coaches and athletes utilize to consistently gets results. If athletes obsess about beating their opponents, going for the title, controlling others, etc, they naturally become anxious, stressed and tense and build layers of self-doubt because they cannot control these outcomes. As a result their performance suffers. To reverse the traditional tendency of focusing on results, ask yourselves, ”How you need to be in order to be your best?” (e.g., Ideal Performance State, Competition Mindset, etc). This question helps you to focus only on those aspects of performance you can control such as your preparation, attitude, game plans and your enthusiasm for competition. As a result of being able to control these elements of performance, you become relaxed, fluid, and empowered, and regain confidence and trust in the process of competing at your own level of ability (i.e., potential) or beyond. Over a 18 hole match, the ability to focus in on each shot and relax between shots is the the art of cycling your concentration with your focus on each shot so that you are as emotionally fresh on 18 as you were on the first tee!

    The Battle within: Instilling Inner Strength

    Disciplined athletes are equipped to fully develop inner strength, a quality that enables them to do whatever it takes to realize their full potential. Although it’s important to have some talent, skill and technical know-how; true champions are those who have through discipline, developed enormous inner strength – commitment, persistence, courage, confidence, and belief in their own limitless potential (Loehr Schwartz, 2003).

    An athlete with desire is willing to do whatever it takes and is committed to specific strategies (e.g., Action Plans) to help realize their goal. Persistence helps the athlete to continue to work through adversity, set-backs, or failure. Courage enables the athlete to stare fear in the face and take risks, knowing that failure may result. The athlete then establishes a confidence in his/her ability to perform those strategies, knowing that there truly are no limits to what they can achieve. These are the qualities of what it takes to be an emotionally resilient and a winner within. When an athlete is trained to look past personal glory, they begin to see that a champion’s strength is measured by the virtues of the heart: the challenge is within, the opponent is ones’ self and the reward is deeply personal and private.

    When athletes focus only on prospects of winning, losing, scorecard and other result-oriented possibilities, they build up anxiety and tension because they have no control over these outcomes. When thoughts shift to things they can control – their desire, commitment, persistence, courage, and confidence in their routines they perform to their potential more consistently – consequently become more resilient and ultimately peak performers.

    Mental Toughness Characteristics

    Strong desire to succeed: Champions know where they are going and how to get there with a real sense of purpose.

    Stay positive in the face of challenge and pressure: They dig in and get challenged and stay positive when things do not go their way.

    Focus: Control the controllable – focus on things they can do something about like their game plans, pre-shot-routines, tournament preparation plans, yardage books, etc., without wasting mental energy on factors outside their control (e.g., club politics, other competitors, etc.).

    High commitment with a balance attitude: Commitment means being prepared to make the necessary sacrifices to succeed, giving 100% in practice and tournaments, putting extra time on physical, technical and mental skills, and taking responsibility for your development and career.

    High level of self-confidence: They are confident and have the capacity to perform well under the most challenging situations. When things go wrong, they have the ability to refocus and bounce back strong.They display a never say die attitude and stay positive during shifts of momentum.

    Positive body language: Mentally tough athletes are consistently aware of the messages they are sending their opponents and work hard to consistently display a confident and tough image (Do you look like your focused and mean business?).

    Play/compete to win: Are not afraid of playing/competing to win as opposed to playing/competing not to lose. They are competitive and work hard to win and enjoy competing in every competition.

    Successful performance in pressure situations: they seek out challenging situations which offer them a chance to achieve a goal (e.g., tough up & down).

    The good news is

    Toughness is learned. Toughness is a skill that enables you to bring all your talent and skill to life on demand. Toughness is your Ideal Performance State:


    Toughness is the ability to consistently access empowering emotions (challenge, drive, determination, positive fighting attitude, energy, spirit, persistence, fun) during each competition. Toughness is physical, mental and emotional!

    Note – In the Game of Life – never limit yourself by believing your not talented enough or smart enough, or you have not been given the genetic gifts to achieve your dream. Your future is determined far more by what you do than by what you are genetically. The most powerful force in your life as an athlete will clearly be your acquired level of toughness. And the toughness you learn for sport will also serve you well in the Game of Life.

    Top PGA Tour Golfers’ bounce back ratio

    Your Bounce Back Ratio

    What was your bounce-back ratio over this past year? What was your up & down success ratio over this past year?

    Tough thinking examples

    Tough acting examples