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Coaching Mental Toughness

Articles in this category will help coaches coach themselves and others to give their best effort one step at a time.

High Confidence is Stifling Our Athletes

a.k.a. Confidence is Good, Unless it is Bad!


There are three core questions to ask and answer to successfully travel along the path of mastery: “Where am I?” “Where do I want to be?” And, “How do I get there?” There is an epidemic in our sports community that Dr. Fran Pirozzolo calls an “illusion of competence.” (Among many other achievements, Dr. Pirozzolo earned four World Series rings in his seven years with the Yankees.) It is a result of confidence being delivered to the athlete without it being earned by the athlete. This illusion of competence means that the first question (Where am I?) is not being answered correctly. It is no wonder, then, that this athlete’s strategies for getting to where s/he wants to be are flawed. It is pretty tough to get good directions from a map if you don’t know your starting point.

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Make Learning Most Important Every Day

  • Do you perform better and learn faster with a positive attitude or a negative one?
  • Is adversity inevitable?
  • If positive and yes are your answers, as they likely are, then is staying positive through adversity going to be a critical skill for you to develop to be the best you can be?

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Best Effort Now – Success is defined as "the peace of mind that comes from knowing you gave your best" (John Wooden). Therefore, it is achieved by accepting responsibility for controlling the controllables. This is done by trying to figure out how to create an ideal state, commit to a plan, and focus, the executing that plan the best you can at this point in your life. Here is Coach Traub's Diagram of what it takes to give a Best Effort Performance. 
Focus – Do you clutter your mind with too much thinking while you’re trying to perform? Focusing on the task-at-hand is a vital performance skill that can be learned with quality practice.  You’ll learn to block out regrets about the past and worries about the future, recognize the correct present-tense object for your focus, and find that “trust mode” where you can truly give your best effort.

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"Acting as if..." is Better than "Fake it 'Til You Make It"


Poise is the outward demonstration of self-control. Poise is great, but self-control is the bigger issue. If an athlete has self-control, he will always have poise, but he can fake an appearance of poise without having self-control. Many athletes look poised, but are actually in turmoil on the inside, and their performance suffers accordingly. This typically happens because they have learned to follow team rules such as no throwing helmets or verbal expletives. The athlete is faking poise because he is not sufficiently motivated to actually stay cool on the inside. Acting differently than how you feel in the heat of competition is not easy. Failure to do so is likely, at least in part, because the competitor does not understand how his self-control and his self-talk impacts his performance. (They are critical components of a best-effort performance.) If he would “act as if…he is confident and in control,” his performance would greatly improve.

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The Power of Imagery
    It is the athlete's challenge to get his (or her) body to act the way he wants it to act. Communicating mind to muscles can be extremely challenging. Sometimes simply telling yourself what to do works, but sometimes it doesn't. You must care, but trying too hard is debilitating. You must be aggressive, but it is easy to lose balance and control. You must be strategic, but also keep it simple so you can maintain an effective focus on what's important now. You must be mechanically sound without thinking about mechanics while performing, even after a mistake. So is there a magic wand? Is there a way to commit the mind to a plan of attack, then consistently get the body/muscles to act or react appropriately? With practice, there is. From Hank Aaron and Greg Maddux to Tiger Woods and Annika Sorenstam to Michael Phelps and Michael Johnson, imagery is the elite athlete's magic wand for producing outstanding results.

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Mental Toughness Stems from a Healthy Perspective


 “Baseball is what I do, not who I am.”

 “I might get beat, but I’ll never be defeated!”

“Baseball is not war. I compete fiercely, but it is just a game.”

“I love this game.”

Note: This article references baseball, but it is applicable to any sport.


  • Why does one person break down under pressure while another breaks through?
  • How can an athlete perform so well in practice, then struggle so mightily in the game?
  • Why do many fine athletes work hard and have talent, but play so inconsistently?

Many coachable, hard-working athletes perform far below their potential because they are unaware of their deficient mental skills. With awareness, all mental skills can be trained, including focus, self-control, imagery, and confidence. All are parts of the answers to the questions above, but none address a foundational problem found in most inconsistent athletes’ mental game: a flawed perspective.

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