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What is mental toughness?

Mental toughnessMental toughness is term used by psychologists to refer to resilience and confidence. Training in mental toughness can help a performer succeed in sport, education and the workplace.

The discipline and area of study was first identified in athletic training in the 1980s. Researchers defined a series of attributes that when enhanced led a competitor to perform better. They could better handle difficult training, stressful competitive situations and perform without a loss of confidence. The term mental toughness has entered the common vernacular of  coaches, sport psychologists and sports commentators. Business leaders and entrepreneurs have also started to use the term as it relates to business performance.

A series of research  of studies show that training in mental toughness skills can improve results. Success and achievement are tied heavily to a performance mastery of mental toughness.

Researcher have attempted to define what mental toughness is using a psychological construct, which has a definitive measurement criteria. This allows extensive analysis and comparisons to be formulated.

Three research teams created a definition and a specific construct definition for mental toughness, as follows:

1) Jones, Hanton and Connaughton

Graham Jones, Sheldon Hanton, and Declan Connaughton of the United States used personal construct psychology in interviews with elite athletes. They also engaged  elite-level coaches and sport psychologists to produce this definition:

Mental toughness is “Having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to: generally, cope better than your opponents with the many demands (competition, training, lifestyle) that sport places on a performer; specifically, be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure.” Jones, Hanton, & Connaughton, 2002, p. 209

Their second paper, published in 2007 provided 4 categories for mental toughness attributes.

  1.  A performer’s attitude or mindset
  2. Three time-specific dimensions were also outlined:
    • training,
    • competition,
    • and post-competition. 

2) Clough and Earle

Peter Clough and his research team create a model of mental toughness as a personality trait. The model includes four components:

  1. Confidence
  2. Challenge
  3. Control
  4. Commitment.

3) Gucciardi, Gordon, and Dimmock

Daniel Gucciardi, Sandy Gordon, and James Dimmock of Australia created a definition and framework of mental toughness using Australian footballers as research candidates. Here is their definition of mental toughness:

Mental toughness in Australian Football is a collection of values, attitudes, behaviors, and emotions that enable you to persevere and overcome any obstacle, adversity, or pressure experienced, but also to maintain concentration and motivation when things are going well to consistently achieve your goals. — Gucciardi, Gordon, & Dimmock, 2008, p. 278, 

Learn more about these mental toughness definitions on Wikipedia. Take your own mental toughness test here

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