What are the common attributes that the team at Mental Notes sees in the athletes that succeed?

We have mentioned several times the attributes and definition of mental toughness that are thrown around often in the relevant research literature.  While we acknowledge that there is still more to learn about the concept of mental toughness, it is always good to link the available research to practice and vice versa.

To refresh you,

“Mental toughness is having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to: Generally, cope better than your opponents with the many demands (competition, training, lifestyle) that sport places on a performer.  Specifically, be more consistent & better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, & in control under pressure” (Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton, 2002, p. 209).

Jones et al. (2007) also detailed several attributes that elite athletes, coaches and prominent sport psychologists deemed as contributing to athletes deemed ‘mentally tough’.

So, when I asked the Mental Notes team for their thoughts on the key attributes that they observe in the clients that routinely succeed in their chosen discipline, here’s what evolved.. The top five attributes that rated highest amongst our team when we discussed it in a recent team pow-wow..

Given that between us we have approximately 50 years of experience working with a wide range of athletes from different sports, age groups, and performance levels, it makes intuitive sense that we have seen some reoccurring themes with those clients of ours that manage to get the most out of themselves and those that fall short.

So, I have detailed the key attributes plus why we have chosen them and how you can learn to develop these attributes through psychological skills training with any one of our fabulous team!

WHAT?

Coping with and channeling anxiety in pressure situations.

WHY?

Anxiety is inevitable and those athletes who can understand their anxious reactions and can manage these reactions through thought and behaviour strategies under the pump are on the way to maximizing their chances of doing something special.

HOW?

You can learn thought and behaviour strategies such as changing your thoughts or breathing techniques.  In addition you can put a lot of quality planning to ensure that your training/practice sessions involve pressure and testing (like competition) to become a master of dealing with the fear response that often comes with pressure.

WHAT?

Adapting to and coping with any change/distraction/threat under pressure.

WHY?

Life does not always go to plan, nor does sport.  Being able to be flexible and ‘roll with the punches’ is a skill that when it is a part of your arsenal enables less roller coaster-ing’ and more perspective.

HOW?

You can learn how to change your reactions to both typical and unique distractions.  Your response to any given situation is a choice and the sooner that you realize this the competitive sport world becomes a lot more enjoyable and opporutnities for optimal performance are there for the taking.

WHAT?

Not being fazed by making mistakes and then coming back from them.

WHY?

Mistakes will always happen.  There are so many quotes and sayings regarding the importance of being able to ‘bounce-back’ that this attribute needs no lengthy explanation.  The choice of how mistakes are dealt with defines people, not just athletes.

HOW?

You can learn how to develop an optimistic explanatory style so that you become resilient.  There is enough research and practical evidence to sell the concept that you can learn how to think like an optimist in times of adversity.

WHAT?

Being acutely aware of any inappropriate thoughts and feelings and changing them to help perform optimally.

WHY?

Self-awareness is the very first step to becoming your own manager.  If you know what works for you and you can detect when you are thinking or feeling in a way that does not work for you, then that is the start of the process.  Athletes who can then change their thoughts and feelings to what does work tops off the entire self-management process!

HOW?

You can reflect on past success or personal bests to determine what works for you.  Continue to do these aspects in your training and competition.  They become your ‘recipe for success’.  If you know these then you must also know what doesn’t work and this can be achieved through reflection.  You can then learn various strategies that can help you shift your thoughts and feelings to what we call your ‘A Game’ as soon as you recognize deviation from your recipe.

WHAT?

In certain performances, remaining focused on processes and not solely outcomes.

WHY?

Process-focused thinking has proven itself to be successful time and time again.  Athletes who can keep their minds on the task at hand, the small steps along the way, will find it ‘easier’ to execute their motor skills and thus perform to their optimal level.

HOW?

You can learn how to set goals that are process-oriented which serve as focal points and tools while you perform.  Process goals plus falling in love with the achievement of the small steps along the way is sure to help you!

The end of a year is an opportune time to reflect on your skill set. Do you think you have these attributes? Could you learn some skills to master these attributes to become mentally tougher?

Make 2012 the year to challenge yourself to develop the skills required to be mentally tough in your chosen field of performance. Happy Holidays from the team at MNC!

Andrea Furst PhD | Sport & Exercise Psychologist MAPS