Mental Toughness, Motivation and Teaching

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This topic contains 8 replies, has 5 voices, and was last updated by  Andrew A. 8 years, 6 months ago.

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  • #12136


    A thought provoking blog on the whole “mental toughness” discussion.

    I like what Coach Gambetta has to say on this. Is “mental toughness” really anything more than the mental discipline that is necessary to work as hard as necessary toward a difficult goal? Is “mental toughness” without what Coach Gambetta calls athletic intelligence really any use?

    Every athlete likes to think they have mental toughness and, of course, the old vanguard of “mental toughness” is bench pressing 300 pounds with your coach screaming directly in your ear as you scream back, veins popping out of both your head and your coach's head. Really, though, does this have anything to do with mental toughness? Or is the guy quietly doing reps at 200 or 250 pounds in the corner with nobody around because that's what's going to make him the best athlete he can be displaying mental toughness and some of that athletic intelligence that is going to pay off in a bigger way down the road?

  • #30587

    Andrew A.

    Reminds me of one of Gambetta's tweets: [color=rgb(51, 51, 51)]Making someone tired is not making them better. Train with a purpose, get ready for the game you are playing.”  As I have been known to parrot: working hard + smart > working hard[/color]

  • #30588


    I recently responded to someone elsewhere who sounded like he was doing workouts without understanding the intent of the workouts that doing so reminded me of the joke:

    “Why are you beating your head against the wall?”
    “Because it feels good when I stop.”

    Always know why you are doing what you are doing and you will get more out of it. Sure, there are workouts you can do to hone your mental discipline/mental toughness but they should be done sparingly because they are usually so physically demanding that they will take a while to recover from. Most workouts should be considered a small piece of a large puzzle. You have to know how it fits in to get the most out of it and you can't try to make it into more than it is.

  • #30589



    I like that article. I could see where a coach might succeed with the old mental toughness model. If one had recruited enough bodies to buy into the screaming, no pain, no gain, second place is the first loser mentality, then he needn't worry about cultivating athletic intelligence. He could keep inciting his athletes to give 110% and if some break down he would have another mindless body to throw into the fray. Of course, his athletes would have problems adapting to unexpected situations.

    In my junior year of high school, I wanted to win a state track title with a passion. I did extra workouts two mornings a week (with coach's supervision) and I did all of my workouts hard. (I didn't learn the meaning of easy run until college.) I was injured and ended up having a disappointing season. My senior year, I had the same coach, but we didn't do the extra workouts. I still ran all of my workouts hard or moderately hard, but I didn't break down. I ran very well and ended up with two state titles. I did have mental discipline and I lived in the moment of the workout or the race. My attitude at state was summed up by one thought before my first race that day, “Let's see what happens.” I didn't have any expectations or preconceived notions. I just relaxed and ran my race and ran well.

    This summer, I've run three 5K races. Before the first two, I worried about my fitness or my lack of warm up and I ran too conservatively with disappointing results. In my most recent race, I warmed up well and focused on competing and improved my time by 50 seconds. Not worrying allowed me to run a better race. I feel as if I gave myself permission to run well in the last race and withheld it in the first two.

    [color=rgb(51, 51, 51)]working hard + smart > working hard[/color]



  • #30590


    We hear and talk a lot about mental toughness, but indeed not as much about discipline and intelligence. I think this article is right on. Nevertheless, there is an aspect of toughness too, it just might not contribute as much as some might think.

    I had this discussion, a couple decades ago now, with a former clubmate who went on to be a D1 coach. I was lamenting my lack of toughness in a recent race, and he said there is no such thing: Either you got it your don't. It's all about your fitness.

    I didn't and still don't quite 100% agree with him but do think that “toughness” (being able to dig down and push through discomfort and fear of such) only contributes a small percentage to a given performance in a well-trained, somewhat seasoned endurance athlete. Maybe just a few seconds a mile, other than that you are limited by your physiology and training–which by the way happen to be very dependent on being disciplined and intelligent. And the catch is to know when and how you use this little bit of “toughness,” because the well is limited. You save it for your big races, best a few times a season when either you're feeling great or something that is important to you is on the line.

  • #30591

    Andrew A.

    Right, brings to mind the collegiate cc programs (Arkansas, Oregon, Stanford, etc.) that seemingly have tended to be centered on the coach and not on the athlete and which essentially throw all of the athletes against the proverbial wall of the training style to see which ones would stick.  The 'haves' of that world can recruit enough good talent that they can succeed that way as a team even if a remarkably small percentage of the athletes who come into the program wind up running the best that they possibly could.

    I am also reminded of something I discussed with a running buddy a while ago.  He and I both have listened to the Jim Rome Show on the radio and Jim has a pal where he lives named Richard Machowicz.  Richard has a whole Not Dead Can't Quit lifestyle and it shows in this video (too bad the Raiders have failed to listen, but I digress).  Richard, in an interview, revealed that every morning when he wakes up he takes a cold shower; never warm, always cold.  His rationale is that if you have the option of warm and instead choose cold and you consistently take that cold shower, it cuts a toughness groove into your mind — standing in a cold shower, you cannot pretend that you are still asleep.  In our discussion, we went on to debate what separates guys like Navy Seals from typical non-hackers.  I think there has to be some true physical/physiological component, when you get to the point that being in 38 degree water long enough causes muscles to cramp up and then you physically cannot perform your task (disarming a mine, etc.)  I am not sure that one's mind can override that.  Of course, as my buddy argued, there is the mental component, too, that tells you whether to get into 38 degree water in the first place and to keep you calm and focused enough until you reach a moment of critical survival decision.

  • #30592


    Steve, great point about the programs. They succeed because they get enough bodies to throw into the meat grinder that they will have enough come out to form a team, whether football, running, or any other sport.

    I recall a D3 school where they would regularly have 100+ guys at the beginning of the season. By the end, there might be 20 left but those 20 were in killer shape. Either you survived the workouts and came out in great shape or you broke down and either quit or were in the training room. It worked for them because they had enough guys to pass through the meat grinder.

    Wilson, I do think there is a mental toughness aspect but I think it's what Coach Gambetta calls mental discipline. It's that ability to push yourself, at the right times, beyond where others are willing to go. The key is to have that athletic intelligence to know when the right times are.

  • #30593


    …mental discipline. It's that ability to push yourself, at the right times…

    even people who are only competing against 'themselves' need mental disipline…my favorite mantra that I have used with great success, usually from miles 16-20 in a marathon is “run faster, tomorrow you won't even be hurting and you'll wonder why you didn't RUN FASTER”…

  • #30594

    Andrew A.

    my favorite mantra that I have used with great success, usually from miles 16-20 in a marathon is “run faster, tomorrow you won't even be hurting and you'll wonder why you didn't RUN FASTER”…

    Love it!

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