Mental Toughness

Mental toughness is a term often used to describe professional athletes like Tom Brady, Rodger Federer and Michael Jordan. These athletes all play different sports and have different characteristics, yet are all considered to be mentally tough. As an athlete, what does it mean to be mentally tough?

The easiest way to understand mental toughness is to think of your favorite athletes and describe what makes them mentally tough. For example, Tom Brady is mentally tough because he never gives up, stays calm under pressure, is focused on what’s happening in the moment, and always performs at a high level.

A mentally tough athlete is best described through a set of characteristics: high self- confidence, completely committed, strongly focused on performance, able to cope with stress, able to block out distractions, optimistic and positive attitude, sets high personal standards, well developed competitive plans, able to control emotions and stay involved throughout competition (e.g., cheering on a teammate, staying warm between workouts), views anxiety as beneficial, sets performance goals.

If we asked 10 people to describe what it means to be mentally tough, there would be 10 different descriptions. This is because mental toughness is subjective, along with every aspect within it. An example of this being, my definition of mental toughness is different from Tom’s, which is different from Jake’s. This subjectivity also applies to mental skills like focus, intensity and relaxation.

Defining mental toughness will also differ for each sport, being mentally tough in curling is different than being mentally tough in football. I often ask the athletes I work with, what does it mean to be mentally tough in your sport (i.e., curling, rugby, volleyball, etc...). Which leads to the question,
What does it mean to be mentally tough in CrossFit?

My definition of mental toughness in CrossFit is having the ability to focus on performing the task at hand with intensity, persevere through adversity, stay relaxed throughout a workout, and stay committed to achieving my long-term goals (i.e., the process). Another way to figure out what mental toughness means to us is to answer the question, what mental skills are necessary to be a successful CrossFit athlete?

This will lead to having a list of mental skills (e.g., commitment, motivation, intensity, etc..). CrossFit games athletes are likely proficient in a combination of these skills, with some skills being better than others. The same is true for everyday CrossFit athletes. One member may be better at focusing, while another may have a higher self-confidence. These individual skills fit into the big picture of mental toughness and we can practice these skills and improve them, just like we can with physical skills.

With that being said; what does being mentally tough in CrossFit mean to you?

Jack Sampson
B.S. Kinesiology, 2015, University of Wisconsin - Eau Claire
M.A. Sport Psychology, 2018, Brock University