As we near Super Bowl Sunday and the much-anticipated rematch between the New England Patriots and the New York Giants, the talk is not only about which team will win but which one is more mentally tough.
This begs the question: what is mental toughness? Everyone from sports writers to fans throws that term around – sometimes incorrectly.
Sport psychologists coined the term years ago when they discovered that 50 to 90% of success in high-level sports could be attributed to mental factors, known collectively as mental toughness.
Ok, so what are those mental factors?
Well, first, let me tell you what they are NOT:
Mentally tough is not…
- Acting mean and aggressive
- Knocking the bejeezus out of another player just because you can
- Talking trash
- Thumping your chest or strutting like you’re “the man”
- Playing when injured (if doing so can cause further serious damage)
- Staring down your opponent in an effort to scare him
- Playing dirty
In other words, toughness or a display of toughness is not the same as being mentally tough.
Super Bowl Coaches Coughlin and Belichick have their own definitions which Mark Cannizzaro reported on in his article on mental toughness in the New York Post. According to Cannizzaro, Giants’ coach Tom Coughlin said; “I’m very impressed with our mental toughness. We preach it from Day One and try to explain what it is – a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in.”
Adding a slightly different spin, Coach Belichick of the Patriots referred to mental toughness as “…doing your best for the team even when everything’s not going right for you personally.” Pat’s quarterback, Tom Brady, said that the team has demonstrated resiliency over the season. “Even in the games we’ve lost we fought until the end. We’re always going to fight until the end.”
These are all elements of mental toughness, which is not any one thing but includes a number of mental factors. Sport psychologists have their own definitions of mental toughness. I like this one:
Mental toughness is the ability to consistently perform toward the upper range of your talent and skill regardless of competitive circumstances. It is the constellation of psychological and cognitive qualities that determine one’s competitive edge.
I’ve come up with 8 psychological and cognitive qualities that I think are associated with mental toughness. And by the way, mental toughness isn’t just for athletes. We can all work to strengthen our mental toughness. So, take a look at each factor and consider how you would rate yourself. Let me know what you think.
Mentally Tough Is…..
- Willing and open to seeking feedback about your performance
- Eagerness to learn and improve
- See critiques as information, not personal indictment
- Open to ongoing learning/coaching
- Ability to get and stay focused on task at hand
- Ability to manage internal and external distractions
- Flexibility in shifting focus as task demands change
- Staying cool and calm in the clutch
- Poise and self-assurance even in high stakes situations
- Ability to perform well in high-pressure, competitive situations
Come-back from mistakes
- Ability to bounce back from set-backs and mistakes
- Ability to let go of disappointments
- Seeing mistakes as opportunities to learn and improve
Clarity about motivation
- Motivation gives purpose/direction to behavior
- Motivation is your “why”
- Not what you desire but the reason you desire it
- Dedicating yourself to a course of action
- Clarity about your why drives action
- Creating SMART goals facilitates commitment
- Agreeing to be accountable for your actions
- Your belief in yourself to perform well
- Positive expectations for favorable outcomes
- Sweet spot between arrogance and despair
- Quality of spirit that enables you to face danger
- Not absence of fear; triumph over it
- Heart, spirit
As the two teams meet on Sunday, we can be guaranteed of an exciting game. Both teams seem to exhibit great mental toughness skills but we will learn which team has the edge on Sunday. What do you think…..which team has the mental toughness to win SuperBowl 46?