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Mental Toughness in Sport

24.11.2019

Athletes are trained to be in the best shape possible to bring them success. But if this is the case, why are our bodies trained so damn hard and our minds overlooked? Surely, for the mind and body to work in harmony, equal training of both is paramount.

Athletes are trained to be in the best shape possible to bring them success. But if this is the case, why are our bodies trained so damn hard and our minds overlooked? Surely, for the mind and body to work in harmony, equal training of both is paramount.

Mental toughness can be the difference between winning and coming 4th. Although it is difficult to imagine an athlete who competes on international stages experiencing anything except self-confidence and emotional stability, mental health issues do not discriminate. No matter if you are in the shape of your life, if you arrive at that start line and are not mentally strong, you are fighting a losing battle.

Us athletes train our bodies to breaking point but tend to ignore the mental side of sport.

But why? You wouldn’t expect to win a competition if you had done no physical training for it. So why would you expect to win if you have ignored training your mind?

Nobody is born mentally tough. You have to train your mind like you train your body. To be equipped for the challenges you are going to face.

Athletes often have difficulty accepting emotional struggles and seeking assistance. I couldn’t accept it.

During my rough season in 2018, I was not mentally tough. But I couldn’t admit that. Not to myself or anyone else, so I never did anything about it.

Elite sport is results-driven. I was constantly pushing myself to new limits in training, to reach the ever-increasing expectations. I was physically stronger than ever. However, I could never reflect my form shown in training in competition.

This is where the issues started.

I had an exclusive athletic identity of self-worth, which, to me, was dependant on my performance. I was constantly performing below expectation, and my perception of my self-worth and self-esteem decreased.

Despite this, I continued to compete, almost every weekend, trying to set the record straight with a good performance.

But as you know, usually the harder you try, the worse it gets. I got more stressed, the more I competed poorly. The more I competed poorly, the more pressure I put on myself.

Over the years, I had developed a perfectionist personality due to constantly being in pursuit of being at the top of my event. But when I was no longer at the top? I crumbled. Bit by bit, I felt like I was losing my identity. My psychological stress was through the roof.

But at the time I didn’t acknowledge it. I didn’t stop and think, ‘something isn’t right’. I just kept pushing.

This led to me having a negative attitude towards training and competing. And that’s when I finally realised something was not right.

I had been doing athletics since I was eight years old, and this was the first time I had ever not loved it. And if you don’t love what you do, why do it at all, right?

Although I was reluctant to admit I was not mentally as tough as I had thought, I am glad I did.

Because now, I am a million times mentally stronger than I have ever been.

Maintaining a “superhuman” identity does not make you an elite athlete.

I have now developed coping mechanisms to deal with stress, pressure and situations where things aren’t working the way you want. Relaxation techniques have been a big thing for me, where before I would get overly stressed during one long jump competition, I can now stay relaxed through a seven-event heptathlon.

Of course, I have a long way to go, but through mental development and thought control, my mental toughness is a hell of a lot stronger. My emotional stability during competition is good. And I have control over my mind.

 

You need to train your mind to have control, or you’ll watch it control you.

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