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How mindfulness can help athletes develop mental toughness

How mindfulness can help athletes develop mental toughness

3 min read
  • Sport psychology

Mindfulness is a key part of performing. It helps you to tune in with your thoughts and control your emotions. Additionally, it allows you to let go of negative thoughts which can impact performance.

Being mindful will help you in competition and training, as it provides you with skills that allow you to view the situation as a whole and increases your attention and focus. But did you know it also has an impact on your mental toughness? How can you use this to improve your performance?

What mental toughness is and what it isn’t

Mental toughness is a very popular phrase within sport, but there is confusion around what it really is. While many believe the mental toughness lie that you need to hide your emotions to not appear weak to others, it couldn’t be further from the truth. Mental toughness is:

Asking for help – NOT thinking you are always right

Asking others for help in a sign of courage and shows you are willing to put effort in towards improvement. To be mentally tough, you must be open to learning from others and not just thinking your way is always the correct way. This allows you to gain new perspectives and helps you to deal with challenges more effectively.

You must listen to others around you rather than not asking for help for fear that you will look weak. The athletes who make the most progress are the ones who engage with the feedback they’re given.

Learning from your mistakes – NOT never making mistakes

No athlete is perfect. We all make mistakes. However, mistakes are only useful when you learn from them and see them as what they are: an opportunity to improve.

The mental toughness lie makes athletes believe that to be mentally tough, they should never make mistakes; this is not true. Mentally tough athletes don’t let the fear of failure stop them from attempting new skills or taking risks they need for improvement.

They use their mistakes as learning points so when they encounter a similar problem in the future, they know exactly how to solve it.

Helping others – NOT always taking centre stage

Mental toughness does not mean that you constantly have the spotlight.

If you are to display true mental toughness, you must put the team before yourself. Showing humility and self-sacrifice is important to work well with your team so you can win as a group.

Don’t think of your team as inferior to you, as it is important that you all take centre stage if you are to perform successfully.

Being authentic – NOT acting how others want you to act

As an athlete, it is important to be confident in your own skin: that’s the only way you can be the best version of yourself. Athletes sometimes behave in the way they think they should, but you can’t develop true confidence and motivation whilst wearing a façade. It needs to come from you.

Don’t act how you think others want you to act, as the only person you’re cheating is yourself. True mental toughness comes with true authenticity.

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How can mindfulness affect mental toughness?

Research suggests that mindfulness training, such as yoga or breathing exercises, can increase mental toughness in athletes of whatever stage. This is possibly through the reduction of pain or improved self-verbal, emotional and control strategies.

Mindfulness reduces maladaptive reactions to stress and improves psychological well-being. It gives you a better understanding of feelings free of judgement further relieving stress. Those who practice mindfulness have increased attention and focus which is also key in mental toughness.

Mindfulness improves mental toughness through enhancing your confidence in your ability to overcome challenges and achieve control of your emotions.

Final thoughts

Mindfulness positively affects mental toughness. Why does this matter? Well, an athlete’s mental toughness enables them to achieve high levels of success in competition – and that’s your goal as an athlete.

This means that to be mentally tough, you should practice mindfulness. If you are mindful, it allows you to have control of your emotions and thoughts. If these factors remain unmanaged, they could potentially hinder your performance. By gaining control of these components, you can develop mental toughness, be the best version of yourself, and perform successfully in any competition.


About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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