Mind Over Matter: The Power of Mental Toughness in Sports

There is one component that separates the good from the great in sports. It’s what created the Michael Jordan, Kobe Bryant, and Tom Brady image that sports enthusiasts idealize today. Each of these all-time greats shared a generational level of mental toughness. The words “toughness” and “sports” go hand-in-hand. The mind is the greatest tool that athletes have, alongside their voice and body. Athletes who have a higher level of mental toughness tend to perform better and make it to higher levels of play within their respective sport.

most mental toughness of all time

What is mental toughness and what role does it play in sports?

You don’t have to be born with the mental toughness gene to be mentally tough. It is a habit and a way of being. There are a variety of ways to describe what being mentally tough means, but there are four key characteristics that all mentally tough people have. The first is confidence. All of the best competitors believe in their ability to achieve their goals. The second is resilience. Resilience is the ability to overcome adversity and adapt to the ever changing circumstances of competition. The third and fourth are directly related to one another—emotional intelligence and self-awareness—which are all about understanding oneself. Once you discover the role your emotions play in competition, you gain control and can manage them—using them to your advantage. Being in control allows you to think clearly and remain calm. Mental toughness is just one ingredient to finding success, but it will help you to reach your goals and achieve greatness both in sports and in life after the game.

Every hero has its villain, so there is naturally a dark side to mental toughness as well. The more dedicated to your craft you become, the more important it is to keep your mentality in check. If you don’t, you could potentially develop psychoticism, which means to be reckless and out of control of your emotions. This intense dedication that comes with mental toughness can also lead to burnout and injury. Burnout is when your body begins to shut down to protect itself—a real thing that hinders athletes from reaching their full potential. As it relates to injury, athletes with high levels of mental toughness tend to try and play through them. This, in turn, can escalate the severity of a pre-existing injury to potentially lasting issues. These are all side effects to being mentally tough, but at the end of the day, it pays to have this edge in sports and beyond. It’s a part of the winning formula to life.


Dorrington Myers is a gold-level football coach in the greater Richmond, Virginia area. You can find his profile here and book a session with him today!

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