By Lauren Zedlar
Elm Staff Writer
In order to reach a high level of performance, athletes need to have physical and technical skills as well as the mental toughness to play under pressure.
Researchers Graham Jones, Sheldon Hanton, and Declan Connaughton determined mental toughness to be “an athlete’s ability to outperform their competitors in managing demands and demonstrating consistency, drive, focus, confidence and control under pressure.”
They also found mental toughness to be a characteristic that was both innate and that could be developed. Any athlete who might not appear to have a high level of mental toughness in competition can develop it over time.
These researchers recommend certain mental skills and strategies that athletes can practice.
The first of these strategies include goal setting. This is when athletes take time to focus on specific performance goals or process goals.
These types of goals focus on technical elements rather than the overall outcome.
For example, this could be a baseball player focusing on the technique behind his swing every time he is batting rather than trying to hit a home run on each pitch.
”[Goal setting] will also elevate confidence and minimize any distracting thoughts of failure or things [an athlete] cannot control, such as [their] opponents,” former Olymian high jumper and assistant Professor at Ryerson University, Nicole Forrester said. “For some athletes, focusing on the outcome can actually distract them and cause them to become their own worst enemy.”
Ryerson researchers recommend engaging in a positive internal dialogue. This can include positive affirmations of one’s own skills, cue words that can pump them up or calm them down, or very simple reminders to focus.
Good self talk has proved to bring positive influence on performance and confidence for athletes during competition.
Another strategy given by experts at Ryerson University is imagery, which is an athlete’s ability to envision performing their desired skill or sport as if they were doing it. This includes visualizing the actions done correctly and well to prepare the athlete to actually do it.
“In my preparation for competition, I would spend hours envisioning what I wanted to execute and how it should feel. I would even create bad scenarios that could occur, feeling the pressure and discomfort, and rehearse what my appropriate response would be,” said Foresstor. “When it was time to compete, I felt ready for any and every situation.”
Ryerson researchers recommend this as a very beneficial skill to practice, but it can also be the most difficult one to learn and properly execute.
The last strategy given by Ryerson is arousal control. Arousal control refers to the ‘sweet spot’ that an athlete performs best at and learning how to regulate it.
For example, some athletes might want to be more pumped up going into a game while others prefer being calm before a competition. Arousal control is the measures taken to change and regulate an athletes behavior to meet their preferred level.
For lowering arousal levels, Ryerson researchers recommend taking deep breaths and engaging in self-talk to calm down. To elevate an arousal level, it is recommended to engage in shorter breaths or to listen to music.
To reach peak performance, an athlete must work and maintain their physical skills as well as their mental skills. These strategies can help athletes develop their mental toughness to give a better performance.