Mental Toughness Activities

By Eric Benac

Mental toughness is a term used in sports to represent how well athletes handle the physical and mental demands of their sports. A person with good mental toughness will struggle through the hard physical nature of their sport as well as the pain of getting scored against or losing. Mental toughness is important in sports as well as in other events. It can be built up and focused on by using simple activities and games.

That’s Not Me

When something goes wrong in a person’s life, such as losing a game, they can often feel like this reflects their personality and self-worth. Use this activity to help remind your players and yourself that your self-worth is independent of the loss. Gather your athletes together. Give them pieces of paper and have them split the paper into two columns. One column should say “positive,” while the other should say “negative.” The negative column should be filled up with how it felt to lose the game and how it affected the athlete's self-worth. The positive aspects should be aspects of their lives that are positive and worth praise. Tell the athletes that they must come up with two positives for every negative. While making the list, they should begin to realize that they have worth beyond their game and should begin to toughen up mentally. Do this activity whenever your team seems demoralized.

Competition Simulation

Boosting your athletes' self-worth and confidence is important, but this confidence will be misguided if it isn’t tested in a real-world situation. Help toughen your athletes' mental strength by running them through some simulated competition. Although this is similar to regular practice and drills, these competitive moments should reflect an area where your athletes feel weak or unconfident. For example, if a running back on your football has struggled with breaking tackles, set up a drill where every player tries to tackle him as he runs down the field. This will force the player to toughen up mentally in order to anticipate tackles and break them. It can also help prepare him for the inevitability of being tackled quickly and easily. Competition simulations can and should be used outside of the world of sports. For example, a man who is afraid of flying should watch movies that feature airplanes and also play flight simulators.

Keep It Positive

Negative thoughts have a way of eroding mental toughness. Keeping negative thoughts out of your mind while fostering the positive can lead to a mentally stronger person. Play this game with your athletes or anybody you think needs a morale boost. Pair up your group of players and sit them all down. Read a list of ideas to your athletes. Eventually, read a negative idea or thought out loud. The athletes must clap when they hear the negative idea. The first pair to clap gets 30 seconds to replace that negative thought with a positive thought. The other teams can then vote on how effective that thought would be in creating a positive sense of self. If the majority of the teams don’t think it is effective, another team gets a chance to answer. For each answer that is considered effective, give the team one point. This game can be useful in business environments as well as in the sports world.

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