Importance of Mental Toughness in Sport

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Introduction to Mt in sport

Top level sport is characterized by a demand to excel at optimal levels while performing under conditions that are considered extremely demanding. The pursuit for performance excellence in sport encompasses the continuing development of four key facets of performance, namely physical, technical, tactical, and mental skills. However, when physical, technical, and tactical skills are evenly matched, which commonly occurs in competition especially at the highest level , performers who possess more of what is commonly referred to as ‘‘mental toughness’’ appear to prevail more often than those with less mental toughness (Gucciardi, Gordon, & Dimmock, 2008). Psychological attributes such as self-confidence and the ability to cope with and interpret anxiety-related symptoms as positive are now commonly accepted as being major contributors to sporting success (cf. Hardy, Jones, & Gould, 1996; Mellalieu, Hanton, & Fletcher, 2006). Mental toughness has been reported to be the most important psychological characteristic in achieving performance excellence (e.g. Goldberg, 1998; Gould, Hodge, Peterson, & Petlichkoff, 1987). Indeed, in a study of the psychological characteristics of Olympic champions, Gould, Dieffenbach, and Moffett (2002) identified mental toughness as the mental skill factor most frequently cited as a significant contributor to sports performance enhancement. From the emerging knowledge base, mental toughness is considered to be multi-dimensional (comprising cognitive, affective, and behavioural components)

According to Loehr (1986), mentally tough performers are disciplined thinkers who respond to pressure in ways which enable them to remain feeling relaxed, calm and energised because they have the ability to increase their flow of positive energy in crisis and adversity. They also have the right attitudes regarding problems, pressure, mistakes and competition. Mental toughness has been defined by Loehr (1986). Specifically, the attributes of mental toughness include: (a) self-confidence (i.e. knowing that one can perform well and be successful), (b) negative energy control (i.e. handling emotions such as fear, anger, and frustration and coping with externally-determined events), (c) attention control (i.e. focused), (d) visualisation and imagery control (i.e. thinking positively in pictures), (e) motivation (i.e. willing to persevere), (f) positive energy (i.e. having fun and enjoyment) and (g) attitude control (i.e. unyielding).

There has been more recent research in sport psychology that has referenced the concept of mental toughness and the benefits associated with acquiring it as a skill to use in different sports. Jones, Hanton and Connaughton (2002) presented an articulate review of mental toughness and highlighted numerous complications related to research within this area. Their Research has attempted to provide more theoretical clarity to reduce the confusion around the subject and the findings indicated that the development of mental toughness is a long-term process that encompasses a large number of underlying mechanisms that operate in a combined, rather than independent, manner.

Jones et al 2002 defined the construct as “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.

It is apparent that if mental toughness is conceptualised as an individual characteristic that can help buffer the damaging effects of stress, and allow athletes to remain relatively unaffected by demanding circumstances, mental toughness shares some common ground with the concept of hardiness. Hardiness is described as a personality disposition that health...
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