Return To Blog

Mental Toughness

Strategy Tip: Mental Toughness

A very wise tennis teacher I had in my youth named mental toughness as the ability to cope with mistakes you make in your tennis game. I wanted to offer some psychological “sure things” to help you win your matches but it turns out strategies are what you can rely on and your willingness to be open to these strategies working for you.
The following two articles offer advice to consider during matches that I found to be simple yet effective. 

    Sales Leadership
    Six Elements Of Mental Toughness
    Christine M. Riordan, 09.17.10, 01:20 PM EDT

    There are at least six markers of mental toughness from sports psychology that apply equally well to business situations. As with athletes, business leaders need to ask, am I mentally tough enough to compete?

    1. Flexibility. Game-ready leaders have the ability to absorb the unexpected and remain supple and non-defensive. They maintain humor even when the situation becomes tough. If something isn't going well or doesn't turn out as expected, they remain flexible in their approach and look for new ways to solve the problem. Just like a quarterback faced with a broken play, a leader may have to decide quickly on a different way to get the ball down the field.
    Also, leaders must continually be open to re-educating themselves, even in the basics, which they may have taken for granted for too long. They need to exercise caution in defensively falling back on ideas they know and are comfortable with rather than looking for new ways of doing business.

  2. 2. Responsiveness. Game-ready leaders are able to remain engaged, alive and connected with a situation when under pressure. They are constantly identifying the opportunities, challenges, and threats in the environment. They understand that they need to think differently about how their environment and business operate.
    The problems we encounter now are messier and more complicated than ever before. They often can't be solved in the ways others were. Game-ready leaders look for new ways to think about these problems and, more important, look for fresh ways out of these problems. They have a sense of urgency about responding to the changing face of business.

    3. Strength. Game-ready leaders are able to exert and resist great force when under pressure and to keep going against insurmountable odds. They find the strength to dig deep and garner the resolve to keep going, even when in a seemingly losing game. They focus on giving their best and fighting hard until the end, with persistent intensity throughout the game.
    Just as athletes dig deep to find the physical and psychological strength to continue through adverse and tough situations, game-ready business leaders must exhibit the same strength. As James Loehr puts it, top athletes think, "While this is tough, I am a whole lot tougher." Game-ready business leaders bring the same intensity, through all the continual pounding.

    4. Courage and ethics. Game-ready leaders do the right thing for the organization and the team. They suppress the temptation to cut corners or to undermine others so they come out on top. They have the courage to make the hard but right decisions for the organization.

    5. Resiliency. Game-ready leaders rebound from disappointments, mistakes and missed opportunities and get right back in the game. They have a hardiness for enduring the downs of a situation. They remain optimistic in the face of adversity and quickly change when necessary. They resolve to make things better and are experts at figuring out ways to do more with fewer resources.

    6. Sportsmanship. Game-ready leaders exhibit sportsmanship. They don't let the opponent know when he or she has gotten them down. "Chin up," I say to my son. Clearly we all experience disappointment, attacks from others, an occasional blow to the stomach. However, the behavior exhibited by game-ready leaders after losing or being attacked by others or the situation sets the tone for the rest of an organization. Additionally, top athletes support their teammates and their roles. If teammates start competing with and attacking one another, it is definitely difficult to win.

    We all need these same markers of toughness to succeed and lead in today's business environment. We cannot succeed on technical skill alone. Companies have tough questions and situations to address. Game-ready leaders go into today's business environment with their best mental game and with the attitude of "Bring it on!" After all, who doesn't love the challenge and fun of a demanding, complex game?

    Christine M. Riordan is the dean and a professor of management at the Daniels College of Business, University of Denver.

  3. The Association of Applied Sports Psychology
    “Overcoming Performance Errors with Resilience”
    Gloria B. Solomon, Ph.D., CC, AASP


    A common occurrence that all athletes encounter is performance errors. All athletes make mistakes; it is a natural part of learning to be competent at any activity. Since mistakes are normal, it is beneficial to help athletes accept that errors will occur in sport. A unique approach to dealing with performance errors is presented by Halden-Brown (2003). In her book, she addresses the normalcy of making mistakes in sport and how coaches can use these errors to train athletes both physically and mentally. I propose that teaching athletes about resilience will facilitate their ability to accept mistakes and use these errors as a catalyst for optimizing performance.
    In a book on mental training in softball, the authors delineate five principles of performance excellence (Solomon & Becker, 2004). While set in the context of fastpitch softball, these principles can easily be applied to any competitive setting. The fifth principle, Resilience, is the key to overcoming performance errors. Simply stated, resilience is the ability to remain composed, confident, and consistent in the face of errors. A resilient athlete is one who can let go of errors and return to the present; s/he uses the error as an opportunity to learn and improve. The athlete who is not resilient will dwell on the mistake, be unable to stay in the present, and his/her performance will be inconsistent.
    Solomon and Becker (2004) created a four-step process which athletes can use to deal with performance errors. The sequence is as follows.
    A = Acknowledge the error and the frustration it has caused
    R = Review the play and determine how and why the error occurred
    S = Strategize a plan to make the necessary corrections for the future
    E = Execute and prepare for the next play
    The ability to overcome performance errors is a skill that any athlete can learn.
    Teaching athletes this sequence will give them a tool for managing the emotional response which comes with making mistakes and help them to get their ARSE in gear!
    Halden-Brown, S. (2003). Mistakes worth making: How to turn sports errors into athletic excellence. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.
    Solomon, G., & Becker, A. (2004). Focused for fastpitch: 80 drills to play and stay sharp. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics

    Instead of wasting time crying over the past, get started on strategizing and your head is back in the game. 

    Get on the Court!