Tag: Mental Strength

All eyes will be on Vancouver this Sunday as the U.S. Women’s soccer team takes on Japan in their second consecutive World Cup Championship game. In order to reach the finals for two straight tournaments, we know the athletes have not only incredible physical strength, but also extraordinary mental strength. Midfielder Megan Rapinoe spoke with NPR before the World Cup began about what distinguishes the U.S. team: “I think traditionally, we’ve always been very fit and fast and physical, and we have that sort of physical element that we can just outlast teams,” she said. “And we have that grit and that mentality that we’re never going to quit.” That grit is an integral part of what has led to the team’s success—and is also an integral part of being mentally tough.

In their book, The Mental Game Plan: Getting Psyched for Sport, Drs. Stephen J. Bull, John G. Albinson, and Christopher J. Shambrook outline six characteristics of mentally tough athletes:

Strong desire to succeed

Stay positive in the face of challenge and pressure

Control the controllables

High commitment with a balanced attitude

High level of self-belief

Positive body language

From Rapinoe’s quote alone, it is easy to see that the U.S. team embodies these characteristics. The team’s determination and refusal to quit aligns with characteristics 1-5 (and if you look at pictures of the team in action, you’ll see No. 6 as well).

So how can you embrace these six skills and be mentally tough like the U.S. women? What do they really mean?

Strong desire to succeed

Why are you playing your sport? We imagine it’s because you love it and have fun while playing! Your No. 1 priority should be to enjoy what you’re doing. Then, that love for the game will transfer over to your desire to keep getting better. “Succeeding” does not necessarily mean winning the championship or being the best player on the team; rather, it’s about setting your mind to a few, tangible goals and working hard to attain them. These are progress-oriented goals—like taking a few deep breaths before you make your next pitch or becoming 5% stronger over the next two weeks. The real success is when you achieve these progress-goals throughout the year!

Stay positive in the face of challenge and pressure

Athletes of any sport, especially at high levels of competition, endure a lot of stress. Making excuses and complaining won’t help you get any better. Mentally tough athletes challenge stress head on by staying positive throughout their competition.

Control the controllables

In order to be mentally tough, you need to recognize that there are some things you can’t do anything about. The refs, the weather, the past—recognizing that there are aspects of the game out of your control will help you become more aware of what you can control. You can control your effort in practice, your attitude when you miss a rebound, and what you’re doing at the current moment, to name a few. When you focus on what you can control, you put more conscious effort into making those aspects of your game better instead of worrying about what’s out of your hands.

High commitment with a balanced attitude

Having a balanced attitude means that you need to be dedicated to your sport while also being dedicated to other aspects of your life like school, family, and friends. Enjoy your sport while you’re playing, but if something bad happens during a game or practice, don’t let that negatively affect your mood when you leave the field. Mentally tough athletes recognize that they need to focus on sports while training, but they need to be engaged with other parts of their life as well.

High level of self-belief

We all know that we won’t make every basket or catch every pass from the quarterback, but that’s ok! If you stay focused on the present moment—on the basket you’re about to shoot or the pass the quarterback is throwing right now and you say to yourself over and over that you can do this and you will make the basket/pass, then more often than not you will make the shot. If you believe in yourself, you will be able to turn those thoughts into actions.

Positive body language

When you swing at a pitch outside of the zone, do you slam your bat down in frustration or do you take a deep breath and tell yourself that you’ll get it next time? Standing upright with confidence will in fact make you more confident. Everyone makes mistakes, but it’s those who realize that they can be better next time that are mentally tough and successful.

Mental training takes time just as physical training—you can’t get better overnight. Next time when you’re skating around the rink, take a few deep breaths, remember what you can and cannot control, and believe in yourself. Those quick mental skills will put you steps above your opponent—as evident by the U.S. women’s soccer team only one step away from a World Cup Championship!

 

Adversity Since Birth

We hear all about the sports figures that are in the limelight: Michael Phelps, Tom Brady, Tiger Woods, Serena Williams, and Mia Hamm to name a few. But is it possible that there is a few that hold the same credence without getting the proper attention they deserve? Absolutely, and Tatyana McFadden may be at the top of that list.

Born in St. Petersburg, Russia, Tatyana grew up in an orphanage for the first six years of her life. Born with Spina Bifida, a disability caused by a hole in your back, she was paralyzed from her waist down. While the other kids ran around, Tatyana refused to fall behind so she learned how to walk using only her arms and hands. Without the funding to buy a wheelchair, she unknowingly began to develop arm strength that would aid her rise to stardom in the years to come. Her wheelchair did come with time however when she was introduced to Deborah McFadden, an American woman who was taking routine a business trip as the Commissioner of Disabilities for the U.S. Department of Health. The two instantly connected and the adoption process took place before Deborah returned home.

11 Medals And Counting

Tatyana was still volatile upon her arrival in America, and was given a timeline of a few months to two or three years maximum left to live. Hoping to build up her strength, Tatyana’s new parents introduced her to sports, an infatuation that would bring her international success and an amazing mindset that puts most to shame. She tried many sports, but absolutely loved wheelchair racing, and excelled at it in no time. She told her mother that she wanted to be an Olympian one day, that she wanted to feel what they (Olympic athletes) feel when standing on the winner’s podium. Sure enough, Tatyana would experience that feeling not once, not twice, but 11 times in the 10 years that followed. At the 2014 Paralympics, she received her first two medals in wheelchair racing at age 14, one silver and one bronze. Four years later in Beijing, she added 4 more medals which was then mimicked in the 2012 Paralympics in London when she tallied another 4, 3 of those being gold medals. Making her the fastest woman in the world in her sport. While most people would be satisfied with 10 Olympic medals, Tatyana was unenthused with only participating in one sport. In 2013 she decided to pick up cross-country skiing, and with less than one year of experience in the snow, you guessed it, she made the winter Paralympics. And while she was at it she amazingly enough out performed all but one, slightly missing the gold medal and receiving silver.

If you are not too busy picking up your jaw that has rightfully dropped, the most incredible thing to consider is that she has accomplished all of this before graduating from college. As 2014 eventually rolled around, Tatyana finished her education at the University of Illinois with a degree in Human Development and Family Studies, she plans to pursue graduate studies which is another thing that should not seem surprising at this point. She carries a precedence and demand for excellence in all facets of her life. She says that through her life she has “wanted to prove that with training and hard work and dedication you can be the best. And if you don’t train you wont be the best.” Plain and simply, hard work is her mantra. This mentality has been most recently rewarded when she received the 2015 Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Disability Award for her accomplishments in both track and field and cross-country skiing. And when asked about her “disability” she responds by saying “I hate that word, disability, because there is nothing disabled about us (those that are disabled), we have accomplished much more than the average person.” She is absolutely right, and maybe her words and actions will one day inspire the Laureus award to be renamed to the Laureus World Sportsperson of the Year with a Sports Ability Award. Tatyana McFadden demonstrates the mental toughness and resilience that we should all seek, and shows us that “disability” is simply a limitation that we put on ourselves.

To read more about her story check out this website and this video.

 

Ever wonder what it takes to make the most of your athletic ability? Want to hear it first-hand from an NFL vet and a licensed sport psychologist? Look no further – the entire conversation between Isaac Byrd and our very own Dr. Justin Anderson is available via podcast here.

To download the podcast from iTunes and see some more of Isaac Byrd’s work, check out his iTunes account here.