Brian Baxter Sports Psychologist: What is Mental Toughness

Brain sent me a response to the article he inspired concerning mental toughness which I posted just last week. Half-Ref asked if I could get a response from Brian Baxter, the Sports Psychologist I was able to sit down with early in the year. Brian sent me an email after that and this is his response: (The Brian who responded was not Brian Baxter)

Here's my take on the article:

I like the answers that some of the other posters have given
In short, mental toughness can be taught, as long as the athlete(s) want to learn it. It's like any other skill though - most won't get it through being lectured, but through practice and experience. I have seen athletes and teams I have worked with learn to block negative thoughts and distractions, control their emotions, deal with anxiety, pressure and stress, and push themselves to work harder. I know from experience that it can be taught.

But as you mentioned, what is mental toughness? I would say there's a difference between heart and mental toughness. They're similar, but not completely the same.
I read "heart" as "internal motivation." The internal drive to play well, improve, and win.
I read "mental toughness" more as "confidence."

You can look at confidence in a couple ways:
1 - "I've trained, I'm in shape, I know the gameplan and my responsibilities, the team is playing well, I believe in myself" = confidence
2 - "I am coming off an injury, I'm rusty, the team isn't playing very well, the ref has made some bad calls, I have made several mistakes, but I believe that I have what it takes to overcome all this = another level of confidence - "mental toughness" Maybe another term for it might be "Mental Fitness."

In the situation where the Timbers have given up so many late game goals, can you say they are lacking "heart?" Maybe.
Can you say they are lacking "mental toughness" (i.e. confidence that they can get the job done)? I think this is more likely.

In my work as a sport psychology consultant, the answer is different for different athletes. So I need to know from them:
What is distracting them? The fans? The ref? The opponents? The pressure to win? Internal doubts? What fears are coming up? Are they losing their composure? Are they confident in the gameplan (i.e. how to protect a lead)? Are they so focused on NOT losing that it becomes a self-fullfilling prophecy?

To teach someone mental toughness is to make them aware of what obstacles are in the way of optimal performance. As the awareness grows through experience, then mental skills such as positive self-talk, emotional control, breathing and visualization can be taught and implemented. As the athlete practices the mental skills in training, they become second nature, and the obstacles turn into stepping stones, as the old adage goes.


Thanks Brian for your insight.

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