You need lots of mental toughness for peak athletic performance. This is true for all sports, not just combat sports like martial arts. While it’s easy to be fooled into thinking sports are purely physical, great athletes do not agree with that line of thought.
Michael Jordan once famously said basketball was 95 percent mental and 5 percent physical. That’s how much the best athletes attribute their mentality to their success. One of the reasons why Jordan was so good during game-winning moments was because he longed for these situations while many other players didn’t. Many athletes don’t want the responsibility of taking the game-winning shot, while mentally tough players like Jordan live for these moments. It’s because they’re mentally tough enough to handle the results of their actions, good or bad.
Study your favourite athletes in any sport, and it won’t take you long to figure out that they have incredibly strong and focused minds.
What Is Mental Toughness?
Mental toughness isn’t the easiest thing to define, but it’s something we all recognise when we see it. Marathon runners display mental toughness as they grit their teeth during the final mile of a race and military recruits display it as they power through boot camp.
Some of the characteristics that make a person mentally tough include:
- The ability to block out distractions and stay focused
- The ability to be resilient when dealing with adversity
- Accountability and responsiveness to helpful information in the heat of battle
- Ability to manage emotions at all times
- A strong desire to accomplish goals
Great athletes aren’t always born with these attributes. Many develop them through years of practice.
Six Ways To Strengthen Your Mind To Optimise Athletic Muscle
Your physical training, including strength and conditioning, is only half of the equation when it comes to peak athletic performance. You also need to focus and prepare your mind to make your body perform at the highest levels it’s capable of. This means you should allocate some of your training time to improving your mental toughness specifically.
Some of the things you can do to improve your mental toughness include:
1) Create A Routine That Helps You Refocus
You’re going to deal with some adversity during competitions, regardless of how hard you train. Having a refocusing routine that helps you to refocus during competitions is a key factor in succeeding in your task. It doesn’t have to be something complicated, just something that reminds you to relax and focus on the task at hand. For example, many golfers have some sort of routine they perform before each stroke.
The purpose of having a refocusing routine is to allow you to detach yourself from any mistakes you make during competitions and to focus on the things you can control in the present moment. Come up with a short routine you can perform any time you need to refocus your thoughts while you’re competing. The more you perform this routine, the more effective it becomes.
2) Control Your Mindset
It’s perfectly normal for negative thoughts like self-pity and self-doubt to creep in when you find yourself in tough and stressful situations. You’ll need to learn how not to let these negative thoughts dominate your mind. It starts with understanding there’s no point worrying about things you can’t control and focusing on having an unwaveringly positive mindset and being resilient.
Having a clear understanding of why you compete helps in these situations. You need to learn to remind yourself what your goals and dreams are when negative thoughts creep in.
3) Hold Yourself Accountable And Address Weaknesses
All athletes have their strengths and weaknesses regardless of how elite they are. One of the things that separate the best athletes from everyone else is their commitment to constantly fixing their weaknesses, while most people prefer to ignore theirs.
Think of athleticism as a chain while your mental and physical strengths and weaknesses make up the links. Any weakness in the chain affects your athletic performance. That is why it’s so important for athletes to hold themselves accountable and work on their weaknesses.
If your weakness is having negative thoughts creep in during competition, take steps to address the weakness instead of accepting them. Ask yourself key questions like what triggers these negative emotions during competition and take steps to address them. Simply being able to identify these triggers helps to control such emotions.
4) Use Visualisation
Visualising the steps needed to achieve your desired outcome helps you to perform optimally as an athlete. It prepares your mind for the many scenarios that can play out during competition. Find a quiet place and go through all the possible situations you might find yourself in. Don’t just visualise an easy path to success. Instead, visualise yourself overcoming hardships and still emerging victorious. That way, you won’t panic if things aren’t going your way during competition.
23-time Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps has an interesting story about the power of visualisation. Water flooded his goggles as he dove inside the pool during one of his Olympic races, but he managed to complete the race and win a gold medal because he was prepared to swim the entire race with his eyes closed. He had visualised the possibility and prepared for it by learning the exact number of strokes he needed per lap before turning.
5) Learn And Practice Relaxation Techniques
Sports are filled with highs and lows and you’re likely to experience similar emotions while competing. Relaxation techniques can help to keep you relaxed if your emotions or negative thoughts start to get the best of you. It can be as simple as being mindful, progressive muscle relaxation, or taking deep breaths.
6) Motivational Music
Many athletes use the power of music to get them in the right mindset to compete. Music has always been a powerful tool that can make you want to cry, dance, sing, or fight. Ancient generals used war drums to get their fighters ready for battle and to intimidate their adversaries.
Some athletes might need music to help keep them relaxed before their big event, while others need it to get them pumped up. Regardless of which applies to you, make a music playlist that you only listen to when training hard or competing. It’ll give you a little boost when it’s time to compete
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