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Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Is Mental Toughness Training Right For All Athletes?

By Jay Granat

A lot of athletes, coaches, therapists, parents and sport psychologists embrace the idea of mental toughness. Sports reporters, sports writers and the media like to talk about athletes who are mentally tough. There is no question that being mentally tough can sound like and good and useful concept for athletes. And, in fact, it valuable for many athletes in many sports. I employ mental toughness techniques with many of the people who I counsel in my practice.

However, for some athletes and for some sports, mental toughness can be an invaluable or counterproductive kind of thought.

Some athletes immediately become tense, rigid or anxious when you talk to them about being mentally tough or about mental toughness training. Being rigid, anxious, tense or inflexible is not a good mind set for most sports.

I have seen runners who slow themselves down by being too focused on being mental tough. A better image for them might be to concentrate on being mentally and physically quick.

Similarly, an ice skater I coached did better by being in touch with her body and the ice then she did when she tried to block everything out of her mind.

Some players do better trying to employ ideas like mental creativity, mental flexibility or mental gentleness. For example, one golfer I coached found that when he thought about being tough on the course that he began to grip the club too tightly and started to swing too quickly.

I suggested that he shift his philosophy aware from a mental toughness idea and toward and mental gentleness where he was in touch with his body, the ball and the course. For him, the mental toughness idea was not working because he connected it with tuning out distractions, when in fact he played better when he allowed himself, his mind and his body to join with his surroundings.

When athletes come to see me, we are trying to help them to discover the mental gear which will allow them to play to their fullest potential. For some, mental toughness is the right gear. For others, it is the wrong approach and we have to find another mental state which will work better for them.

A tennis player who I coached replace his stubborn mental toughness approach with an approach which included a good deal of levity, humor and lightness. This shiftimproved his game significantly.

So, you can see that there are instances where a mental toughness approach can be wrong for some competitors.

Jay P. Granat, Ph.D. is a psychotherapist and the founder of

He has written several books and developed several programs to help people perform to their fullest potential at sports, at work and at school. Dr. Granat, a former university professor, has appeared in The New York Times, Good Morning America, AP, ESPN, Golf Digest, The BBC and The CBC. He can be reached at

His books include Zone Tennis and Get Into The Zone In Just One Minute. He is also the author of How To Get Into The Zone With Sport Psychology And Self-Hypnosis, How To Lower Your Golf Score With Sport Psychology And Self-Hypnosis, 101 Ways To Break Out Of A Hitting Slump and Bed Time Stories For Young Athletes. Golf Digest named Dr. Granat one of America's Top Ten Mental Gurus. He was recently featured in a documentary film on long distance running. Dr. Granat writes a weekly column for three newspapers.

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