Mental toughness most often described as that ability to push through pain or discomfort or to hang in there when the going gets tough. But mental toughness is not that narrow of a construct. One other form or aspect of mental toughness is patience.
Patience requires discipline. Patience requires focusing on the right things at the right time. Patience infers delayed gratification. Patience is key to successful careers, seasons and competitions. Patience can be learned.
Forcing training and competitions before you are ready as an athlete can greatly retard your growth as an athlete. For instance, high school athletes should not be attempting college or elite level training programs. It’s easy for young athletes to read about what elite level athletes do and attempt to mimic them. They do not have the patience to accept incremental progression over time. Instead they get injuries and burnout in return.
Every athlete would like to improve season to season. (Many want to improve in every single competition!) So many youth through college athletes I have worked with expect to start seasons with PR level performances. Though when we are young, the maturation process alone may carry us to PRs at the start of new grade levels the error is in thinking this will continue throughout high school or college (or beyond). Patience is required to follow seasonal and year round training programs. If you are setting PRs in your first competition of the season – the odds are that you will be peaking and plateauing long before that championship competition.
Patience must be exercised in following phases of training in which there is a stair-step approach to development. It also requires patience to stick with it when development lags from time to time. Improvement in sports performance is not linear. Development is more like a roller coaster as your body adapts to new levels of training stress.
Patience is required to compete. Following a pacing plan for instance requires that you run your race – and not someone else’s. Patience is required early in races when you feel so good you want to go faster than what you’ve trained for. A recent example was when Galen Rupp got anxious during the US Olympic marathon trials this past February. Rupp took the lead with 7 miles to go but Coach Salazar reined him in. Under such hot conditions it was too early to go. Rupp later admitted his coach was right because he indeed was starting to cramp up towards the end. What may have preserved Rupp’s victory – and avoid a potentially race ending cramp – was a coach reminding him to be patient.
By nature, most of the athletes I work with are highly motivated, competitive – and they want success now. Following a well-designed training program, practicing patience as part of mental toughness and having a coach to remind you is the surest route to that success.
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