One of the questions I am most frequently asked is,” What is mental toughness?” I’m not quite sure that that is the right question, because “mental toughness” as a phrase is probably one of the most commonly used but misunderstood phrases in sports psychology.
Mental toughness (Jones, et al 2000) is having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to:
a. Generally, cope better than your opponents with the many demands that sport places on a performer
b. Specifically, be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure.
This is the definition, which in actual fact is no help at all. It’s a simple description of everything we already know. We need to cope with the demands of the sport more consistently that our opponent. Do we need a sports psychologist to tell us that? The question we should be asking is, “What makes us mentally tough?”
I have been on the ATP with India’s Top 10 players for the past five years. I have watched them develop as both players and individuals into charismatic personalities who command respect on every level. I have watched them win nail-biting matches from difficult situations on sheer courage and persistence, and also lose run of the mill matches through complacency. But what no one sees in any player, is the wealth of experience they compile from every single match, be it a win or a loss. And it is this experience that single handedly molds the mental toughness that is required to win championships.
The next important question is, “How do we ensure that we are gathering the correct information required to nurture and develop a player in a future champion?”
There is a very common phrase that goes, “Knowledge is Power.” In order to develop a complete professional tennis player, we need knowledge of the individual in four major components: technical, physical, game strategy, and mental. And the best way to gather this information over a prolonged period of time is to inculcate in the player the discipline of writing a journal. A journal is not a diary. It is a window through your subconscious mind. It is a market place of ideas, thoughts, fears and aspirations. And the only way to reach it is through your pen. It is a ticket to self discovery which materializes when one allows their conscious thoughts to flow freely through their pen. This in turn will stimulate the sub conscious mind to freely toss ideas that will help the individual better understand both his body and mind. The journal must comprise of specially selected thoughts and feeling that will contribute towards molding the individual into a charismatic personality. It will eventually form a reservoir of positive- ness that will ultimately guide the individual to his goals, uplift his spirits, and with time show him that although the road ahead was not an easy one, his perseverance, strength, courage, and discipline have helped him overcome adversities beyond his wildest comprehension.
This record of his experiences will help him understand his strength and weaknesses in all four components, and eventually guide him onto a path that will best suit his complete overall development. In addition, the psychological and therapeutic benefits of reading ones old journals are very documented.
So lets start the process of developing our mental toughness by freeing our thoughts through the action of writing.