The Importance of Mental Toughness

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Football team warming up on the field

Sports can encourage young athletes to be outgoing and build social skills. Participating in a sport can even instill important characteristics such as teamwork, time management, and discipline.


Student-athletes learn how to push themselves and push their teammates while developing friendships and coordination skills in the process. In order for an athlete to be as successful as possible, they must work to develop mental toughness.

What is the Definition of Mental Toughness?

Most people define mental toughness as the ability to produce consistent results in practices and in games regardless of the situation. Whether it’s poor weather, an injury, or a pressure situation, athletes with mental toughness find a way to produce the same results. Some notable athletes with mental toughness include:

  • Michael Jordan, who has hit multiple game-winning shots under the most pressure-filled of situations.
  • Serena Williams, the greatest female tennis player of all time, produces ace after ace down breakpoint or match point.
  • Adam Vinatieri, a future hall-of-fame kicker, has hit field goals that have won his team NFL Super Bowl Championships.

These athletes could not perform at this level consistently without mental toughness. Without a doubt, mental prowess is necessary for athletes to achieve the best results possible when it comes to sports. In these moments, athletes must have the drive and motivation to push through challenging and pressure-filled moments and continue on to success.

Do Not Focus on Finishing. Focus on Finishing Well.

When exploring the depths of mental toughness, it is important to note that athletes shouldn’t just find a way to continue going through the motions. Athletes need to remain just as engaged and focused on delivering a high-quality performance in dire situations as when they are feeling fresh. Whether someone is racing against the clock or competing against other athletes, this toughness should allow the athlete to remain competitive and at the front of the pack, not just a presence on the field. It is easy to deliver a top-notch performance when the pressure is off or when people feel fresh. It is more important to keep that level of energy when fatigue or pressure sets in.

How to Build Mental Toughness in Athletes

When pushing athletes to develop this toughness, there are some important facts that coaches need to remember. Remind the athletes that they possess more heart and strength than they give themselves credit for. Help remind them that their limits are only perceptions developed by their mind. When they feel tired or want to stop, tell the athletes that they are in control. They can push harder. They can fight longer. Do not allow those mental blocks to progress to physical limits. Help instill the belief that they are capable of more than they ever thought possible.

Visualization is Key

No matter the activity, always encourage athletes to practice visualizing their success. This is a great way for athletes to overcome any mental limitations. Success for most athletes is achieving something that they have never done before. In order to accomplish this, they will need to break down their mental barriers. Recommend meditating or going for a walk to think about their success.

Encourage them to visualize the process of success in their minds. Allow them to feel the rush of such an accomplishment. Once they can visualize that success in their minds, they will have an easier time overcoming mental blocks during competition.

Encourage the Athletes At All Times

When athletes start to have their doubts, encourage them to have faith and stay mentally strong. They have worked hard developing the skills necessary to enjoy success. Tell them to trust in their training, their teammates, and themselves to overcome any obstacle. Mental toughness comes with experience. The harder they push on the field, the better the results will be. As they start to realize the difference that persisting and staying mentally tough can make, their mental state will become more and more of an asset on the field.

About Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration Degree

Ohio University’s Online Master of Athletic Administration Degree program is designed to teach professionals how to manage the many changes in interscholastic sports. The university launched the nation’s first academic program in sports administration in 1966 and continues to be a leader in sports business education. The online MAA program is housed within the university’s College of Business, underscoring the university’s dedication to providing world-class sports business education.

The program works in collaboration with the National Intercollegiate Athletic Administrators Association (NIAAA) to prepare graduates for certification and is accredited by the Commission on Sport Management Accreditation (COSMA).

Additional Reading

Ohio University Blog, “The Psychology of Sports Injury and Rehabilitation”
Ohio University Blog, “20 Influential Quotes from Professional Athletes”
Ohio University Blog, “6 Tips for Motivating Young Athletes”


The Sport Psychologist, A Framework of Mental Toughness in the world’s Best Performers, PDF”
U.S. Track & Field, “Mental Toughness: The Psychological Skills (Techniques)”
The Sports Journal, “A Coach’s Responsibility: Learning How to Prepare Athletes for Peak Performance”