Mental Toughness

Control | Commitment | Challenge | Confidence

Mental toughness is one of the most utilized, but least understood concepts in applied sport psychology (Jones, 2002). Being a mentally tough athlete is a phrase used often, however, there is little agreement as to what it specifically means. Some of the characteristics used to explain mental toughness include: optimism, desire, determination, commitment, focus, self-belief, self-esteem, confidence, willpower, control, and courage. Because there is not yet an agreement on how to define mental toughness, a working definition is a psychological set that provides a belief framework, foundation, and central traits for cognitive, affective, and behavioral techniques that leads to confidence, consistency, and coping in pressured situations that sets elite athletes apart from others on their journey to success (Jones, 2002). Mental toughness training may look different for athletes, but a few important components of mental toughness are remaining determined, confident, focused, in control in pressure situations, and remembering one’s sense of self and self-efficacy.

Components of Mental Toughness

According to Clough, Earle, and Sewell (2002), there are four critical components in their model of mental toughness; the 4 C’s (control, commitment, challenge, and confidence). Control is the ability to feel and act as if someone could put forth an influence in the questioned situation. Commitment is the aptness to take an active role in the situational events. Challenge is the view of change as an opportunity to develop and grow rather than perceiving it as a threat. Lastly, confidence is a deep sense of self-belief. When performers possess these four components or aim to enhance each of them, they are more likely to display mental toughness. 

Within performance an athlete who experiences strong emotions may benefit if they are mentally tough by being able to stay in control of these emotions and act in a way that they can influence a certain situation. Mental toughness will aid an athlete who is experiencing burnout because they will stay committed and is more likely to find a way to overcome the burnout than an athlete who does not display mental toughness. If an athlete were to experience a challenging situation (i.e., new coach or teammates)  a mentally tough athlete would view this as a challenge and find a way to grow despite it being a threat to their game. Finally, confidence may be beneficial because as athletes face difficult situations or less challenging situations, the common factor across all of them is that the athlete believes he or she is able to get the job done (Weinberg & Gould, 2015). There are several factors that characterize mental toughness and resilience and coping are two of them. Being able to implement techniques to address the task at hand can show resilience and coping clearly rather than succumbing to pressured or challenging circumstances.

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Clough, P. J., Earle, K., & Sewell, D. (2002). Mental toughness: The concepts and its measurement. In. I. Cockerill, (Ed.). Solutions in Sport Psychology, 32-43.

Kathryn M. Connor, & Jonathan R.T. Davidson. (2003). Development of a new resilience scale: The Connor-Davidson Resilience Scale (CD-RISC). Depression & Anxiety (1091-4269), 18(2), 76.

Cortês Neto, E. D., Dantas, M. M. C., Maia, R. da S., Araújo Filho, I., & Maia, E. M. C. (2020). The resilience of adolescent participants in social projects for sport. Ciencia & Saude Coletiva, 25(3), 901–908.

Jones, G. (2002). What is this thing called mental toughness? An investigation of elite sport performers. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology. 14:205-218.

Weinberg, R. S., & Gould, D. (2015). Foundations of sport and exercise psychology (6th ed.). Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

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