Prior to the influx of research on the subject much of what was known about mental toughness was based on anecdotal reports and disseminated predominantly through the popular media.
The result was a diverse selection of definitions and explanations of mental toughness that largely included an assortment of beneficial psychological characteristics (e.g., self-confidence, insensitivity to criticism) and mental skills (e.g., arousal regulation, visualization).
The conceptual confusion created from this lack of consistency and understanding resulted in numerous beneficial psychological characteristics being incorrectly labelled as mental toughness, particularly as they were based on authors’ opinions rather than empirical research.
Everything from resilience to focus control appeared to capture mental toughness at one point or another. As a result, most athletes still do not know where to begin in their self-assessment of mental toughness, and most discussions I have around the topic with coaches still settle on the question, “what is mental toughness?”
Encouragingly, the latest empirical research by Dr Daniel Gucciardi and colleagues on mental toughness has tightened the definition and condensed its defining attributes to just six priority factors.
Mental toughness encapsulates an individual’s capacity to produce consistently high levels of performance or goal attainment despite everyday challenges and significant adversities. The six core components to have emerged across the available research and appear to capture the essence of the current state of affairs are as follows:
Before you begin profiling, first consider this common misconception about mental toughness.
You Either Have It, Or You Don’t! (Not So!)
The most prominent mistake most coaches and athletes make when profiling mental toughness is categorizing an athlete as either mentally tough, or not, with no in between!
However, mental toughness is not an all or nothing concept. In fact, athletes demonstrate mental toughness qualities in varying degrees which can also fluctuate depending on an athlete’s life climate at certain points in time. You simply do not lose mental toughness or become mentally tough at one point in time.
The best athletes demonstrate multiple attributes of mental toughness in strong apparent ways on and off the course. An assessment of the six core attributes of mental toughness in a player dominating the tour at a point in time, will likely demonstrate a strong expression of all six factors in their game.
When players are not performing to their potential or seem to be in a slump, they show a regression of these qualities in action. You can see this regression in their actions on and off the course, the thoughts they express about their game, or in their approach to the game.
In line with the view that mental toughness is NOT an all or nothing concept, Pro-Tour Golf College Directors David Milne and Lawrie Montague share some key examples of mental toughness in action on the tour:
“For any player to achieve any kind of success at the very top level they have to possess the first four attributes (success mind-set, optimism, self-efficacy, and emotional control) no exceptions.”
“Kim was a top ten player until 2010, but speculation of a party life style and multiple injuries have derailed is career.”
Unsuspecting events like injury or illness can rock a player’s self-efficacy, mind-set, and general optimistic outlook on their career.
Such experiences can act as “triggers” that lead to a decline in a player’s expression or use of certain mental toughness attributes, resulting in a drop in performance.
- First to avoid the assessment of “everything and nothing” use the six core elements of mental toughness as a basis for your profile.
- Chat the “behaviors” that demonstrate the six core elements in action on and off the course.
- Discuss with your coach and build a list of these actions.
- Begin charting how “often” you engage in these actions to understand when, what, and how you are demonstrating the six key elements.
Get to know your triggers!
- Get to know the everyday challenges that affect your expression of these qualities, and lead to a decline in performance.
- Put strategies in place to maintain or enhance these attributes of mental toughness when they count the most!
Like all elements of your game, even your mental toughness requires conditioning. You must work hard to build and maintain these qualities in action on and off the course.
Dr Jay-Lee Longbottom
For more detail on the latest mental toughness research by Dr Gucciardi and colleagues visit: www.danielgucciardi.com.au/