Mental Toughness Myth #1 – “I’ll think tough the week of the race”

A funny thing happened on the way to the meet one day. A couple runners asked me how they could be more “mentally tough” in the race that weekend. It’s not uncommon that an athlete believes that being mentally tough is like flipping a switch.

So the switch has been in the “off” position for your entire life. But, on Saturday I want to flip it into the “on” position.

It’s like saying today I haven’t run a day in my life but this Saturday I want to run a marathon – well, OK, or at least a 10K.

You did not get to the point in physical conditioning overnight. You will not get to the point of being “mentally tough” and have good thinking habits overnight either.

The analogy I use with my athletes is this. It’s like an old vinyl record album (OK, I have to screen them first to see if some of my younger athletes know this.) The grooves are out patterns of thoughts. The longer we’ve behaved and thought in a certain way, the deeper the grooves. It’s hard to get out of the grooves. Our job in developing mental toughness is to scratch out the old grooves and lay down a new set.

There are many techniques, tips and tricks to supporting a strong mental game. Some may work this coming weekend even but with greatly varying degrees of effectiveness. Routines and patterns are what establish this thing called mental toughness. There are no quick fixes to someone who doubts their abilities, has fragile confidence, has difficulty focusing and doesn’t know how to refocus, are easily distracted, gives in at the first sign of fatigue, perform better in practice than in races, let’s the stress of the event overwhelm them, are worried about peers’ impressions of their performance,  need other people as their source of motivation, have judgement-based expectations of their performances, lacks goals (this list can go on and on).

These are some of the mental game elements that make up what we call mental toughness. Mentally tough athletes overcome all these issues with practice – mental game practice – DAILY. You didn’t get where you are in a day. You practiced your patterns of thought and behavior for many years. It will take time to overcome them. So, yes, start today for this weekend’s race. And then keep on practicing some aspect of mental toughness DAILY.

Need help with this? That’s what a mental game coach is for. Drop me a line.





About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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