Mental toughness in soccer
La fortaleza mental en el fútbol

The development of mental strength in the socio-historical period in which we live is complex, since it is currently observed in considerable situations that we are less tolerant of the postponement of pleasure, with little capacity for waiting, patience, with greater conceits and we constantly seek immediate gratifications (food, social networks, likes, “magic pills for our problems” instead of working on them, etc.). We are immersed more within a culture of the “fast food” type, but the creation of the “fast player” athlete has not yet been invented. Building a footballer, with all that this implies (physically, technically, tactically and psychologically), is a process long, which takes time, work and requires evolution (according to different studies, excellence is not developed, in any area, in less than 10 years equivalent to 10,000 hours well planned and executed) … The reality in these hurried times is that we It moves away from our full consciousness of being in the present (the here and now), losing possibilities for development, personal and technical growth, and can generate problems of depression, stress and anxiety, among other psycho-physical problems. Likewise, things that are generally worthwhile, meaningful and truly rewarding require time, effort, determination and probably tears (if not remember the 36 years we have lived without going to a World Cup and what it cost us to qualify … making it last). Frustration (it is part of life, nobody always gets what they want) is part of the development of the construction of mental strength, it is not about avoiding it or avoiding it but about how it is dealt with in a constructive way to strengthen the character.

There are different models of this multidimensional psychological construct, the successful applied model of Loehr (1995), the theoretical model of Clough, Earle and Sewell (2002) and the scientific validation of the model of Clough et al. (2002) in which they extend the four psychological constructs to six (Clough and Strycharczyk, 2012) and it is validated in 2018 (Vaughan, Hanna and Breslin). The components are:

In simple terms, mental strength is the ability to endure, to postpone the reward, to endure bad times, to rise from the falls, to show rebellion in the face of adversity, to persevere in the face of it with faith, conviction and optimism to be able to turn the result while it exists time and possibilities, even math. “As long as there is life there is possibility.” They do not give up mentally, there are players who before the end of the match have already given it up for lost and are mentally defeated or others who enter already defeated to compete.

Challenge: positive stress (eustress), degree of seeing difficulties as opportunities, it is a stimulus.

* For example: the Mexican team in the match that defeats Germany (2014 world champion). Javier “Chicharito” Hernández (Mexican forward) had previously told a negative journalist “let’s think chingonas (incredible) things”

Commitment: it reflects the deep implication in pursuing the goals and objectives, generating the necessary efforts in the pursuit of what is desired.
*For example: Cristiano Ronaldo (CR7) in his commitments to take care of himself (nutrition, exercises and rest) and to do extra work (physical and psychological). He takes good care of himself at home (food, rest, psychological exercises, among others) and he is the first to get to training, gym, and the last to leave, he stays practicing penalties and free kicks (it is no coincidence the level he has in those executions). He invests in his professional development, investing in himself, with private professionals who help him improve (physical trainer, nutritionist, psychologist, among others).


  • From his emotions: management of negative stress (distress), anxiety (physiological and cognitive, according to his personality traits and the situation) and arousal (activation levels) in pressure situations.
    For example: CR7 in the application of his psychological routines, previously learned and practiced (“you compete as you train”), to execute the penalty and free kick against Spain. While in the missed penalty against Iran he does not execute his routine and the result was not as desired
  • Of his life: belief that one is decisive in the events of life, is autonomous. It is one of the basic needs of the human being, according to the theory of self-determination, along with feeling competent in something and having good relationships.
    * For example: Paolo Guerrero (PG) in the claim of the CAS ruling before the Swiss court, to fulfill his dream of attending a World Cup, in a context of very low probability of success and very high uncertainty (one of the elements that most stresses negative produces), he kept training in case he was successful, as in the end it happened, and thus he could be in the best possible conditions within his possibilities (since he could not compete in football and this was beyond his control).


Intrapersonal: self-confidence in the abilities to achieve goals, depending less on external factors, focusing on what is in control of him.
* For example: Paolo Guerrero catching the ball with determination and conviction to launch the free kick against Colombia in the qualifying rounds, scoring the tying goal that gives us the possibility of going to the qualifying playoff of the 2018 World Cup or Cristiano Ronaldo (CR7) in the free kick that gives him the tie against Spain in the World Cup.
Interpersonal: assertiveness in interaction with others.
* For example: the intervention of socio-affective support from PG to Christian Cueva after missing the penalty against Denmark, the management of coach Ricardo Gareca with his team and the connection with the Peruvian fan, CR7 leading his team, injured off the field, in the final of the last Euro 2016 they got or the Swedish team publicly demonstrating against the racist chants, towards Jimmy Durmaz, for committing the foul for the free kick that generated the winning goal Germany in the last minute, and then beat him by thrashed Mexico and classify first in their group.

The characteristics of this model have been observed in some teams during the World Cup (Croatia, Sweden, Uruguay, to mention a few, and there, a couple more to a lesser extent), in our selection in the second part of the qualifying rounds; Overcoming adversity along the way also strengthens teams and consolidates their mental strength. This does not mean that there are not other teams that have it but it is likely that they have not yet had the need to show that resource as it is probably most necessary in decisive instances, the occasion also makes the champion. Likewise, these characteristics have been specifically seen in some players in the present World Cup, for example it is interesting to observe it in captains and leaders of different teams, such as Luca Modric (Croatia), Cristiano Ronaldo (Portugal), Andreas Granqvist (Sweden), Radamel Falcao (Colombia) and Diego Godín (Uruguay), to name a few, and also in others not captains. On the other hand, captains have been observed who are not necessarily leaders, and ideally they should be (there are scientific instruments to determine this).

Mental strength is measurable and workable, it is not a rigid personality trait, but rather it is moldable, it can be developed and enhanced. If they are not worked, advantages will be given to rivals. Then you can and should work so that the footballer and the teams are prepared for the psychological demands of the highest competition such as a soccer World Cup, in which there is so much at stake, with very large emotional overflows (protagonists, journalists and public ), due to the magnitude of the number one scenario in football and probably in world sport, due to what it generates socially and economically.