Physical strength is a quality that most athletes strive for. They train for it, they eat for it, and they live a life that contributes to healthy growth and repair.
But what about mental strength?
The kind of strength it takes to keep competing, even when it becomes more difficult than it was when the commitment was originally made? To be consistently focused on the desired result, to know that each experience brings wisdom and builds character, and to have the bandwidth and energy to remain motivated and inspired? To have the skills and support to be able to handle the pressures and demands that today’s young athletes are subject to?
Mental Toughness for Young Athletes
This type of toughness—mental toughness—is what clearly separates athletes who succeed in all areas of their lives (not just in sports), and those who don’t. A great definition of mental toughness (taken from Building Mental Toughness) is as follows:
“A mental ability to overcome adversity and persevere through difficult and challenging situations or circumstances, to remain focused on the goal.”1
So how do we emphasize mental toughness and teach our kids that our minds are more powerful than our bodies will ever be?
One way, is to help your child or athletes routinely ask themselves the following questions:
- What routines can you implement into your daily life?
- How do you get focused for each day?
- Are you aware of your goals and targets?
- Do you have a plan of attack?
- How do you respond to stressors?
- Do you remain strong under pressure?
This helps young athletes to stay positive, and focus on their own process.
Tips and Tools for Mental Resilience
Other ways to improve one’s mental resilience, is to:
Breathe: Remember that increased oxygen lends to a calmer, more relaxed state of mind. Learning to consciously breathe in times of stress can be a fabulous tool to not only teach young athletes, but every adolescent.
Exercise: This may sound redundant when referring to athletes, but exercise that isn’t part of their daily or weekly program can be stress-relieving and enjoyable. Yoga and Tai Chi are both examples of highly beneficial supplementary exercise programs.
Be present: By not multitasking, young athletes are better able to be in the moment and consciously enjoy it. Mindfully keeping oneself in the present is another great tool for anyone, not just athletes.
Stay focused: This is important in maintaining mental toughness. Staying focused on the original intent and desired result can help aid in decision-making and prioritizing.
Manage expectations: Start small, and build to bigger and better goals. By making goals realistic, you increase your chances of attaining them, which builds self-confidence and drive.
Practice positive self-talk: Mostly, because negative self-talk will only be harmful. Positive self-talk increases self-confidence, which is paramount when it comes to succeeding as an athlete.
Get out of your comfort zone: Surprisingly (or not), stretching your comfort zone results in higher confidence and lends to a better variety of experiences. When equipped with the right tools to navigate the expansion of one’s comfort zone, the results can be thoroughly enjoyable and confidence-boosting, and assist in building mental toughness.
Keep perspective: Above all, remind young athletes that life is about more than the game. It’s about friends, family, experiences, and growth. One loss is not the end of the world—grow from it. Not being able to participate in a particular event will not end your dreams—learn from it.
Reinforce to your young athletes that mental toughness is a skill that’s cultivated—and the people that focus on it and mindfully improve upon it will ultimately reap the rewards.