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Are you mentally tough enough? Do you want to get an edge over your opponents? Do you know how to step up in pressure situations and perform your best? Do these 5 exercises to build your mental toughness.

Mental toughness is the ability to consistently perform at your best in any situation. No matter what your skill level or talent, any athlete can learn to be mentally tough. Any athlete can use mental toughness to maximize their potential and get an advantage over their competitors.

The mentally tough athletes are the ones who get the ball when big plays need to be made, the one the team looks to lead them in tough situations, the ones who play consistently at their best in any situation no matter what is happening around them. If you want to be THAT person start working on your mental toughness now. Here are 5 exercises you can do to get started:

1. Improve Self-Awareness: Be aware of your weaknesses so you can work on them. Know your strengths so you can use them. If you want to identify your mental strengths and weaknesses take my free mental skills assessment here.

It is important to identify situations that you find difficult to deal with when competing. For example it could be certain mistakes or multiple mistakes, a frustrating opponent, bad calls or trying to close out a match. Once you have done this the next step is to make plans to commit to when these happen in the future. These should include thoughts, strategies for body reactions, behaviors, and a game plan for your play.

The last step is to practice your new plan, first in training and then in competition. At first it may be a challenge to change your natural way of thinking and behaving for situations but like any new skill with practice it will become automatic.

2. Become Resilient: Develop a refocusing routine that you can use to bounce back quickly from mistakes and focus on the present. The goal is to achieve the same winning mindset before every point, play or skill. You will perform consistently in competition like you do in practice.

If you use your routine successfully you will become resilient and be more likely to perform your best in any situation. A refocusing routine includes both physical and mental steps that you follow each time you need to refocus. To develop your own follow the steps below:

  1. REACT: An emotional release that allows you to accept and release your feelings in a controlled way.

  2. RELAX: Come back to the present moment by using deep breathing and muscle relaxation.

  3. RENEW: Use a strategy to get back to your winning mindset such as a positive affirmation or visualization.

  4. REFOCUS: The key here is to get out of your head and focus on something in the external environment. You do not want be analyzing or over-thinking. For example use cue words or focus points.

3. Increase Confidence: To be able to keep believing that you can perform well you need your mind full of past successes and reasons why you can play your best in any situation. This can come from remembering past performances where you dealt with tough situations and were able to perform at your best.

To start with try this exercise: Write down 3 past performances where you overcame a difficult situation and were still able to perform to your best. Include how you were able to do this. It is also helpful to have images in your head of what you achieved. It is great to have a list of these situations that you can focus on when you begin to doubt yourself. You can use this list to need to increase your confidence when performing, particularly if you are not playing well or when you need to show your best under pressure.

4. Tough Thinking: To be mentally tough you need to have a strong mind. Having a strong mind means mastering your self-talk and choosing what thoughts you use. If you can control your mind you will stay in the zone and keep your winning mindset. You need to be able to recognize when you are using negative or unhelpful thinking and use techniques to stop or change your thoughts. You also need to be able to replace thoughts with positive or helpful thinking.

It is important to understand the types of thoughts that can hurt and help you to manage your emotions and your performance. Once you understand this you can develop a list of positive and helpful thoughts you can use in tough situations to improve your mental toughness.

One exercise to get you started is: Thought Stopping. First you need to recognize when you have a negative or unhelpful thought. For the next step there are 3 options:

  1. Immediately imagine a big red stop sign or red flashing light

  2. Immediately say “STOP” to yourself

  3. Immediately do both together

This will interrupt the negative thought. Next refocus on what you need to do in the present to perform successfully. Practice using this technique as much as possible in training first. Like any skill it can take time to develop but once it does you will have a very strong mind.

5. Perform Under Pressure: To be mentally tough athletes you need to be able to perform under pressure and show your best when you really need it. To stay composed and produce in the big moments develop focus points on how to play well.

Think about when you are playing your best, what specific skills do you do well? These can be technical, physical or mental and will probably be part of your game plan. They need to be specific and in your control. For example “calm and composed,” “move your feet,” “good form” or “watch the ball”. Use these when you recognize that you are distracted by the pressure to get you refocused on how to play well. You do not need to do something extra special in pressure situations, just play well.

If you want more tips on mental toughness check out yesterdays post here. If you want help to improve your mental toughness, Contact Me here to schedule a mental training session.

If you want to get more tips and exercises, sign up for my free newsletter here. You will receive my free e-book: Top Ten Mental Mistakes Athletes Make In Competition: What Every Athlete, Coach and Parent Need To Avoid To Improve Mental Toughness. Plus you get the strategies top athletes use to become mentally tough and get an edge over their opponents.

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Zoe Littlewood, M.A. -
Sport Psychology Consultant & Mental Skills Coach

Zoe specializes in working with individuals, teams, parents and coaches to produce performance enhancement, mental toughness and a winning mindset.

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