Mental strength in sport

Mental toughness is one of the most important and necessary requirements in any sporting activity. Without this, it is difficult to speak of a successful athlete despite good technique and physical preparation and rather it will speak of an average athlete or suddenly good, but who will not go further or stand out. This is definitely a fundamental point to work on in the psychological preparation of every athlete in general, but especially those who compete and even more so in the elite and, in turn, it is one of the most difficult to achieve.

It is one of the concepts most used today by journalists, commentators or others, however, it is a much more complex psychological construct than could be imagined and it is also one of the most difficult points for athletes to consolidate. Mental ability can allow an athlete with lower aptitudes and physical abilities than his opponent to achieve victory.


But what is mental toughness? This is made up of different components, such as:

Self-esteem: The athlete must have a consolidated good self-esteem, otherwise each defeat will be experienced and felt as something very painful that threatens their ego (me), which can generate a lot of rage, anger, anger, frustration and even burnout (saturation phenomenon by which athletes lose the fun in sports practice that can cause the abandonment of it). A person with adequate self-esteem recognizes his worth but also his defects, he loves himself as he is, accepting the good and the bad, without this meaning that he does not try to overcome them. For this reason, the athlete must have the ability to separate his personal life, be it friend, family, partner, etc., from sports. Many athletes in the face of a defeat feel that they are worthless in any aspect of their life and this has no basis in reality, devaluing themselves, not only as an athlete but as a person, and making the defeat more painful than it really is. . They feel a lot of pressure from friends, family, etc., they feel they have disappointed them and themselves. An athlete with adequate self-esteem will know how to balance things and see them from the right measure, without magnifying the victories and defeats. Putting things in the right place, this means that your worth as a person is not affected by sports results, these can be given or not, but if what has to be done was done and the maximum effort was given, there is no nothing that has to be reproached for, one must continue on that path, until the fruit ripens and falls. Roger Federer, current number 1 of the ATP Tennis circuit, says that when he was 19 years old he cried when he saw his contemporaries, Andy Roddick and Lleyton Hewitt (first in the ranking at that time) so far from him, but he kept working, trusting and persevering in his work and talent; At the age of 21 his explosion came, he became and was recognized as a phenomenon of his sport, until now he remains almost unbeatable. If there are problems in this area, you should work with a specialist psychologist. 


Self-confidence: This point is actually part of self-esteem, but for didactic reasons it has been separated. Self-confidence is vital for any athlete, an athlete with poor confidence will never be able to fulfill their true potential. An element widely used to achieve this before competitions are the so-called rituals or “cabals”, the belief that a fact or action increases the athlete’s performance is real because he believes it so, it is a placebo affect (it is believed that something it works and that very belief makes it so). The confidence he has in himself is decisive in the athletic performance of the athlete, this ability must be developed in such a way that not only is confidence possessed, but that he can maintain or recover it despite how badly he is doing in the competition or The complexity of an adverse situation, you must always believe in yourself and in your possibilities no matter how adverse the circumstances. There is nothing safer to increase confidence than triumphs and to bring it down from defeats, therefore, the athlete must set small goals to have small daily triumphs. In the development of this ability, the coach becomes very important because he is the person in whom the athlete trusts the most and in whom he believes the most, so what he says or does not say will become very relevant. It must be remembered that a lot is said not only with words but with gestures and attitudes, and coaches have to be aware of this to take it into account when working with their athletes. In the same way, this must be worked with the psychologist, who must advise and advise the coach to optimize the joint work and, in turn, do it separately with the athlete who does not have this psychological ability or who at a certain moment of his career I see it diminished. 


Tolerance to frustration: At this point the education that the athlete has been given as a boy has a very important value, the more accustomed he has been to being satisfied with his whims and the autonomy of his actions has not been encouraged, the less tolerance to frustration and that will definitely be reflected in your sport. This can only be changed with a good coach, who is aware of this with the support and advice of a sports psychologist to help him work the issue with parents. Having “conceited” boys, capricious, accustomed to receiving everything without deserving it, will only originate men who are not responsible for their actions, athletes who look for excuses for their defeats instead of assuming them as their own. This is what is known in psychology as “locus of control”, the athlete who attributes his defeats or even victories to elements outside him will have an “external locus of control” while the athlete who attributes his victories and defeats to himself It will have an “internal locus of control”, these people are responsible for their successes and defeats, which allows them to work on them. There are no successful athletes who do not have this, every good athlete assumes their victories and defeats with nobility. And they know that defeats are what one learns the most, he does not see them as failures, but as learnings, circumstances that allow him to realize the points to be reinforced or work harder, both in training and in competitions and they are opportunities. to continue learning and advancing in their sport. 

Jimmy Connors (former tennis player), when he lost he said:


Perseverance: You must have a great capacity for perseverance in competitive sport to endure long, hard and intense training sessions, deprivation (food, fun, parties, late nights, travel, being away from loved ones etc.) and the troubles of competitive life in sport, losses you have to deal with to get to the top, the uncertainty of whether you will be able to achieve your goals, etc. A high capacity for perseverance is essential for athletes who want to reach the top, athletes who have this capacity intrinsically or adequately worked with a sports psychologist, can persevere in the fight for victory until the last moment, they never give anything for lost, nothing is said until the end of the game, the contest or the sporting event, they persevere until the end, despite the tiredness, fatigue, pain or any circumstance that is against them (referees, weather, bar, fatigue, etc. .). 


Fun: Sports practice has its origin in fun, that is why a little one begins to practice sports, because they enjoy it and that makes them continue to persevere in it. This, many times, begins to disappear in competitions. It is worth noting how many athletes when asked: Why do they practice their sport? They completely forget the most important thing, which must be “BECAUSE I LIKE IT I ENJOY IT”, many times they forget something as basic as this, because they have fallen at such a strong rate of competition and such high competitiveness, that they no longer know why they are doing it, but simply doing it. Successful athletes do not forget this and what is more, they enjoy difficult and complicated situations more than anything, they enjoy extreme moments, to the limit, they know and feel that they bring out the best of themselves, or compete against those of the highest level, that makes them better. An athlete who does not enjoy his sport will not last long on the competitive circuit. It could be said that difficult victories, with “blood” or “gritting teeth” exclude fun, but, nevertheless, this is not the case, they are ideal and desired situations for many teams or athletes, precisely these situations are the ones that most They motivate, stimulate and have fun because they know that at that time is when they perform best. Michael Schumacher says the following: “What I do is natural and fun, this is the key to interpreting what happens to me. And doing something that I like allows me to be more competitive. My advice to others is to continue having fun and otherwise change ”(February 25, 2005). For example Andre Agassi says that the one who he enjoyed playing the most was against Pete Sampras, he got very excited, no player made him play like him He made him perform on another level, he adored those situations, while other athletes could face him with fear, he made him happy, excited, since he was going to be able to display his best tennis and he was going to reach a higher level thanks to his opponent . That is the correct way to face sports competitions, as you can see, in his mind there is not the stress and anxiety to win, but rather enjoying the competition and that is the correct path to victory. Victory is the consequence of enjoying what you do, that is, an athlete wins because they have fun and not as some believe, they have fun because they win. 


Emotions management: This is very important, the athlete should not allow negative emotions such as anger, frustration or rage to take hold of him, because, that, the only thing that will cause is to remove the athlete from the competition, consume his energies and blur or deconcentrate him from the work he has to do. Any athlete who gets carried away by their emotions will have their performance and concentration affected. This is something that happened to André Agassi in the beginning, as he was a very temperamental player. It is important to control the nerves in critical moments and not allow negative emotions to appear, manage them, withdraw them and rather, positive emotions should be sought and promoted. This is something that athletes often find quite difficult, but luckily today there are excellent specialists and professionals in sports psychology who work on these aspects in an excellent way. 


Managing thoughts: The mind speaks constantly, that is why an athlete must educate his mind to feed him the appropriate thoughts, the mind must think in favor of the athlete and not against. The athlete needs positive and not negative thoughts. The body does what the mind tells it, if the mind says “you can’t do it”, the athlete is not going to do it, because his mind tells his body that it is not possible to achieve it, but if the mind says: “you can doing it ”will increase performance, reaching many times greater importance and relevance than the technical aspect. The athlete plays as he thinks, that is what will allow peak performances. The athlete who thinks badly will definitely not obtain the desired results, on the other hand, by thinking well, he will be able to perform in a much better way. It must be noted that this is one more aspect that makes a difference, but in no way should or can it replace technical, physical or nutritional work. The management of thoughts is also one of the most worked points by applied sports psychology and if an athlete has problems in this area and wants to improve, they should seek help from a sports psychologist. 


In the world of competitive elite sports we find various athletes with clear and demonstrated mental strength such as:

Lance Armstrong (cycling): Champion for seven consecutive times of the Tour de France (1999, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003, 2004 and 2005, record), the toughest competition in cycling, according to the experts, after suffering from cancer testicular, which was generalized, from which he recovered only with a 10% chance of success, the same doctors said it was a miracle. In turn, after he has had over all media for years a lot of pressure on him and is the cyclist to the most antidoping you have done in the history of cycling (not so far prove anything), remember that cycling was submerged in doping in the 90’s. He shows a clear and incredible mental toughness with all the elements mentioned above. 

Roger Federer and Rafael Nadal (tennis): They are so strong mentally that they do not give importance to the circumstances of the match, they do not care how many problems they have in it or how low they are on the scoreboard, in their mind they can always turn that around and win. 

Andre Agassi (tennis): It is a case we personally like a lot and it is a clear example of the psychological work done with him, by sports psychologist Jim E. Loher. When he started out he was very temperamental, capricious, conceited, had poor emotional control, low tolerance for frustration, and had an external locus of control. However, he has managed to work in such a way not only mental strength but every psychological aspect in such a remarkable way that this has become one of the strongest points of his tennis. His mind handles this ability almost perfectly, it is really impressive to see the mastery of psychological techniques. In addition, he continues to compete at 35 years of age, an age at which tennis players are already retired in this sport, they retire around 30 years of age and on top of that he continues to compete as equals with the new values ​​of tennis, staying within the top ten , having almost 20 years in professional tennis. 

Michael Schumacher (Formula 1): Seven times Formula 1 world champion (1994, 1995, 2000, 2001, 2002, 2003 and 2004, record) has three psychologists with whom he works, this has paid off being the racer of Most successful Formula 1 of all time in terms of titles. Even the day his mother died he won his sixth world title and to achieve feats of such magnitude, you have to have excellent mental strength, to be able to separate that event from your mind during the competition. M. Schumacher relates the following: “I felt stronger than before, otherwise I would not continue. I cannot say that I will also win the next World Cup, but I like success and I want to continue winning, for me and for Ferrari ”(February 25, 2005). 

KeIIy Slater (Table or South): He is seven times world champion of Hawaiian Table or Surf (1992, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1998 and 2005, record); being, in addition, the youngest and oldest surfer to be world champion. He tells us that no matter how difficult the circuit gets, he feels and thinks that if he can get his head in order nothing will stop him. This clearly tells us how important the mental is for K. Slater to be successful. 

Sofía Mulanovich (Table or South): 2004 World Champion. This is another case of great mental strength. For more information see: or in Tablista Magazine (winter edition 2005, * 41). 

Jean Jaques Machado (Brazilian Jiu Jitsu): He is eleven times champion of Rio de Janeiro (1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1992), eleven times Brazilian champion (1982, 1983, 1984, 1985, 1986, 1987, 1988, 1989, 1990, 1991 and 1992), Sambo champion (Oklahoma, 1993 and San Diego, 1994), Grappling champion in Japan (1995), American Jiu Jitsu champion (1995, 1996, 1997 and 1998), world champion of the Super Fight (1998), world champion of the Submission and Fighting championship, category 66-76 Kg (Abu Dhabi Combat Club, ADCC) and most technical fighter of the same (1999), runner-up ADCC World Championship (2000), Black Belts Super Challenge Champion (2000), ADCC World Runner-Up (2001) in the category without weight limit, best fight and fastest fight. It should be noted that the Brazilian Jiu Jitsu world championships originated in 1996, so being a recognized and consecrated fighter, he competed in super fights. This is a case that impacted us a lot, he was a fighter that we liked a lot and one day we found out that he fought with a fingerless hand and that he was born that way, he was already one of our favorite Jiu Jitsu fighters, but from that day on he became the undisputed favorite. This was not an impediment to achieve what he achieved but on the contrary, it was a driving force to become the world-class Jiu Jitsero that he is, despite having a consumptive disadvantage. He could have let himself be dejected and desist from the practice at that level but he never gave up and always kept going. We must also take into account the importance of the fingers in Jiu Jitsu for the kimono grips (something fundamental in this sport), he developed his own style adapting it to his disability, developing excellent leg work. This speaks to us of an impressive mental strength, developed through an incredible tolerance to the frustration originated by their experiences. He never allowed them to tell him that he could not do something, in his mind he could do everything and that became reality, despite teasing and so on, sometimes children can be very cruel, he never gave up, he even says that Despite this, he played hockey, a sport that is practiced with two hands. 

Ronaldo (Football): In the 1998 World Cup in France an unfortunate event occurred for football, Ronaldo apparently convulsed, to this day it has not been clarified exactly what happened the night before the game, but it is known that the exams did not They gave no physical problem. What happened was purely psychological, it was too much pressure for the moment he was going through, he was not prepared to carry the pressure of leading the Brazilian team to the title on his shoulders and that day he was a ghost on the pitch. In this regard, Roberto Carlos (teammate in the national team and Real Madrid) said the following: “Without a doubt, he suffered stress. He’s 21, too much pressure to go through being a boy of only 21 ”. Then he adds: -This started at 2 in the morning. He felt bad, depressed, he was vomiting and he was afraid, I don’t want to be cruel to him, but he doesn’t have a strong personality to endure these moments ”(statements taken from Roffé, 1999). Ronaldo himself, 6 years later, commented that the night before the game, he feared for his life. Four years later the same situation occurred, Brazil once again to the final with him in the lead, the difference now was that he had worked extensively on mental strength and Brazil traveled with five sports psychologists. However, the “ghosts” of the previous World Cup were chasing him, so he asked his partner Dida (goalkeeper) to accompany him. That night he did not sleep for fear that what happened four years before in the same situation would happen to him. He played excellently, scored two goals in the final (against the best goalkeeper of the tournament, German Oliver Kahn, later declared the best player in the World Cup), was the championship scorer (8 goals) and led Brazil to the Penta championship. In 1998 he lacked mental strength but after a proper job, four years later, he was ready to overcome what he could not four years before. 

Vanderlei da Lima (Athletics: Marathon): At the 2004 Athens Olympics, he was first in the marathon with a thirty-second advantage over his closest competitor, but was intercepted by a fan who pushed him out of the race and held him for about a few fifteen seconds and making him miss a beat. Vanderlei instead of giving up, he rejoined and moved on, he did not get the gold medal but he did the bronze, which also made him very happy. He showed great mental strength to recover from such an atypical adversity, to overcome frustration, discomfort, anger, consumptive pain (in endurance sports there is a lot of physical pain, stopping and then rejoining exacerbates it). race pace, deconcentration generated by the event and fear caused by the aggression situation. 

Randy “Natural” Couture (Mixed Martial Arts): He has been champion of the heavyweight and light heavyweight titles of the UFC (Ultimate Fighting Championship). At 42, he is one of the best mixed martial arts fighters in the world, beating much younger fighters and competing at an age when no one in the sport has continued to compete. He has also had an impressive evolution since his beginnings in mixed martial arts, his sport of origin was Greco-Roman wrestling (he belonged to the American team) and now he is a complete fighter, adequately handling boxing techniques, Muay Thai and even Jiu Brazilian Jitsu. This fighter shows great courage, he ran a lot in himself, he is extremely tolerant of frustration, persevering, believes in what he does and enjoys each fight as if it were the last, as he himself says “I don’t know how long I’m going to fight, I just enjoy it. “ 

Vanderlei Silva (Mixed Martial Arts): This fighter from the Chute Box began his career in Curitiba, Brazil, with good results and his international debut was against Vitor “Fenómeno” Belfort, losing by a really spectacular KO, they hit him with a flurry of punches that they pushed him back the entire octagon of the UFC, until he was totally stagnant on the opposite side of the fence. After this KO he recovered and came back, showing incredible mental strength, many athletes never recover from this psychologically. He returned to the UFC, won several fights and went on to the Pride FC tournament (the largest mixed martial arts tournament or one of the best in the world) where he defeats the Japanese phenomenon, undefeated in this tournament, Kazushi Sakuraba who defeated the Gracies (Royler , Royce, Renzo and Ryan), beating him by KO up to three times and having participated in this tournament undefeated for years for years and being the undisputed middleweight champion for many years. This fighter is undoubtedly the strongest psychologically at present, he goes forward, never gives up, gives his all and is always convinced that he is the best and is going to win, no matter how complicated the fight is and what is more. important is that you enjoy every moment. 

George Foreman (box): This is the reverse case of those mentioned above, in this example there is an absence or lack of mental strength. George Foreman faced Mohammed Ali in “Rumble in the Jungle” in 1974. Foreman, 25, much younger and stronger, was the wide favorite, against a 32-year-old Ali, in turn, Foreman had demolished the classics rivals of Ali, Frazier and Norton. However, that night Ali won. It took Foreman twenty years to recover from the defeat, he says that he did not feel like a man or that he was worth as a person and he entered a deep depression as a result of the defeat that took him away from the ring, truncating a promising career and causing him to lose millions of dollars, everything for not having mental strength, he had great physical strength but not mental strength. This with an adequate psychological work could have been remedied. 


The good thing about mental strength, as well as all aspects of psychological work with athletes is that they can be worked on, it is not that the person says: “unfortunately I have this and there is nothing to do”, it is not like that. Mental skills are worked on and improved, as well as the physical and technical part, that is the good thing about sports psychology, which provides real and practical solutions. Many athletes have approached COD in search of answers and solutions to problems that they have had for years, that have not allowed the explosion of their full potential and really, there is nothing more rewarding than seeing the smiles on their faces and the relief than They feel that they are not the only ones who suffer from these difficulties, that they have real and concrete solutions, that they work and when they manage to improve their difficulties they are the happiest, there is nothing that makes an athlete happier than being able to improve.


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