There is no magic pill for building mental toughness. There is no quick fix. Building mental toughness and creating a culture that embraces the pillars of success is a process. It is also a choice. You choose to build mental toughness. You choose to build a culture. I do not buy the argument that "this group just wasn't mentally tough." What did you do to develop their mental toughness? Like anything, you teach mental toughness with intent.
Mental Toughness won't build itself. It takes a lot time and effort, as well as complete buy-in from your coaching staff. If one member of your staff fails to hold your athletes to your standard, you will lose trust from your athletes.
You must first clearly define MENTAL TOUGHNESS...
Mental Toughness is the ability to face adversity, failure, and negative events, without a loss of effort, attitude, and enthusiasm.
Building Mental Toughness is composed of five key components:
1. Clear Definition of Mental Toughness
2. Setting Clearly Defined Standards of Performance
3. Accountability: Reminders and Rewards
4. Exceeding Self-Imposed Limitations
5. Accountability and Reminders
Standard of Performance
Your standard of performance is the level to which you expect your athletes to perform. These must be clearly defined, and you need standards of performance for every aspect of your program. Your athletes must know what is acceptable and what isn't. Don't just tell them to get to parallel when you squat. Demonstrate parallel to them, then have them get to parallel with no weight on the bar. Don't add weight until they can meet the standard without weight.
Once you set your standards, then you must hold your athletes accountable. This is a HUGE part of building mental toughness. It might mean you do the same drill or exercise 30 times. You do it until they meet the standard. You cannot let them do less than the standard. If they all are suppose to count each rep, then hold them accountable. If they don't do it, you have a reminder exercises. You then reteach and have them perform the exercise again.
One example of this is when our athletes are suppose to clap during a drill. If they don't clap, we stop the drill and give them a reminder. We then reteach our standard and repeat the drill. If it is done appropriately, we move on. The reminder does not have to be long, grueling or painful. It needs to be short and quick, allowing the group to get back to the task at hand.
Learning to Work Through Adversity and Discomfort
This is perhaps the most important aspect of building mental toughness. Most athletes will use about 50% of their capacity. However, they think they are at 100%. They believe they are at their peak level of performance and the tank is empty. This is the point when most athletes will shut it down. This is the most important point in the process of building mental toughness. Great competitors are able to push themselves to use 100% of their capacity.
A great exercise to teach mental toughness is ab work. Put your athletes on their back with their hands under their ups or at their side. Have them straighten their legs and extend them out, lifting their heels six inches off the ground. Have them hold this position for just ten seconds. This will be easy for them to do. Then, have them hold it and don't tell them how long. After about 15 seconds they will begin to twist and turn. They may even moan and grown. Some will let their feet hit the ground, taking pressure off their mid section. This is the point at which you begin training mental toughness.
Explain to them the expectation and standard is that everyone will keep their legs straight and their heels at 6 inches. If they bend their knees or put their feet down, the clock will stop. Tell them no negative noise is allowed. What is allowed is positive encouragement to the man next to you. You tell them the clock will start at 30 seconds. Have a coach with a timer and have them start the time when everyone has their heels at 6 inches in the appropriate posture. When someone loses posture or drops their feet, the clock stops.
The first time we did this guys gave up very quickly. Depending on the state of your program this could take an entire day. While this is going on, coaches need to be encouraging the athletes. Remind them they can do more than they think they can. Tell them you believe in them, and they have to be willing to trust themselves to get through this.
Over the course of the spring you increase the amount of time they must be able to hold the 6 inch position. Constantly reinforce the exercise is about being able to push through. Another variation is to have an athlete who loses the position stand up. The first time you do it you will have several standing. Repeat the exercise and tell them the goal is to have no one standing. For every player standing, you have a reminder exercise. But the kicker is, you have the guys that completed it properly to the reminder. This conditions them that when they make a mistake, it affects everyone.
Another great exercise is called forty 40's. We did this back about 15 years ago as a rite of passage for our guys. We told them they were going to run 40 perfect 40's. We wanted them to learn to keep the same posture and focus with the 40th rep as they did with the first rep. We wanted them to have the same attitude and effort when they were dog tired as they did when we began. The key for this exercise was the fact that the rep only counts if it is perfect. We defined perfect as perfect stance, perfect start, perfect effort, fast finish. If they didn't meet our standard, the rep did not count.
The first time we did this it took us nearly 90 Reps to get forty perfect reps. It was a real test of mental toughness, but what our guys learned was they were capable of so much more than they initially thought.
The first time we did this we actually did it on a hill we named "San Juan Hill." It was a steep incline that was about 25 yards to climb. We had them sprint up that hill for what seemed like hours. None of them thought they could do it. We knew they could, and we constantly reminded them.
This is all part of getting them to push through their self-imposed limitations. Most athletes mentally limit themselves before they begin. Heck, many coaches do the same thing. We start this negative talk and pretty soon we have talked ourselves out of something special because it might be a little bit tough.
Reminders and Rewards
Reminders and Rewards are simply how you give immediate feedback on whether the standards are being met. If the standard is being met, you provide a reward to you athletes. If they don't meet the standard of performance, you have a reminder. Your reminders should start small and progress. Updowns are a great reminder. They are also a great way to teach mental toughness.
1. Set clearly defined expectations and standards of performance
2. Give Immediate Feedback
3. Immediate Rewards and Reminders
4. Reinforce Positive Behaviors
5. Continually Reinforce Your Standards
As your athletes learn to increase their capacity, they will grow in confidence. They will begin to believe in themselves and their teammates. Our role as coaches is to continually remind them of the greatness they have inside, and that we are merely trying to pull that greatness out. The exercises themselves will break them down mentally. We have to make sure we are constantly reinforce that they can do it. We have to reinforce that have more in the tank than what they think they have. Keep telling them you believe in them. This will help to build that confidence that will certainly carry over to in-season competition.
Before your players can win on the field, they must win in the weight room, in the mat room, and on the track. Mental Toughness is not built during the season. It is built in the winter, spring, and summer. It is built by doing things others aren't willing to do. It is built with intent. You won't ever "happen" to have mental toughness. You have total control over how well you develop mental toughness in your athletes.
Coach Vint has authored several books and instructional DVD's with Coaches Choice. His book 101 Pistol Option Plays is actually available now as a 2 volume interactive ibook for the iPad! It is similar to a traditional book, but it contains several hours of video as well!
Order Part 1 Here: 101 Pistol Option Plays Part 1- Traditional Option Concepts
Order Part 2 Here: 101 Pistol Option Plays Part 2- Spread Concepts