Stop Feeding Your Mind Mental Junk Food

athletes mental toughness

In order for athletes to maximize all of their hard work in practice and have it transfer to competition they must develop what I like to call, a mental toughness immune system. As we know, our body's "physical" immune system is a network of cells, tissues, and organs that work together to protect the body from infections and even diseases. For individuals to boost their "physical" immune system they must commit to a healthier lifestyle, which includes a more balanced diet, healthy weight, no smoking, and regular exercise.

Now think of the mental toughness immune system. Its role is to protect the mind from the debilitating effects of anxiety and self-doubt. Much like the physical immune system we must work on our mental toughness daily in order to give it a boost. A mental boost is when an athlete's mind is at a stage where it responds positively to adverse situations in a more consistent and natural way. The problem we see is that many individuals are looking for quick fix diets and exercises to achieve results. This process often leads to relapse where the individual regresses to their original, less healthy, state and in many cases ends up gaining more weight than before.

Mentally, I have seen the same mistake among the sport psychology field. Athletes, try quick fix solutions, such as taking a quick automated online course or playing a “mental toughness” video game app. Sure these methods are cost effective, however, the old saying, "you get what you pay for" quickly applies to this action. These methods almost always fail because they don't address the true issues affecting the athlete. In addition, the athlete is not provided a customized and complete mental toughness program where they know exactly how and when to apply the techniques as well as how to build from their own experiences.

Solution: To achieve real results athletes need to change and enhance their overall mentality. I often tell my athletes that success is not a sprint it is a marathon. Basketball legend, Larry Bird, had a marathon mentality when he said, “I’ve got a theory that if you give 100% all the time, some how things will work out in the end.” Too often, athletes validate their results before they even start competing. Saying things such as, “I need to do good in this tournament so that coaches will see that I am good enough to play for their team.” This validation moment often creates an overwhelming feeling among the athlete to where they end up underperforming. In severe cases, the athlete may even lose all their confidence from the positive results that they achieved in the past.

When looking at competition as a marathon the athlete is able to place less emphasis on the need to prove their greatness on one particular competition and focus more on just their performance. This marathon mentality also promotes more of a healthy mindset where the athlete is able to focus more on what they can control.

Patrick Albán, SPMI
Director of Mental Training