What Exactly is Mental Resilience?
Mental Resilience is a term we hear a lot at Condor Performance but actually don’t use that much. Those who enquire about and use our sport and performance psychology services will often ask us to help them boost their ‘mental resilience’.
So we will oblige without actually uttering the words ‘mental resilience’ that much. One of the reasons for this, which I feel will inspire a whole new blog on the subject in the near future, is that you don’t need to talk about an outcome to get there. There is no need to talk about winning to increase the chances of it happening. Mentioning team unity is optional in the work we do in boosting it. And there is no need to actual talk about mental resilience whilst developing and implementing process to develop it.
The other reason we don’t use the term ‘mental resilience’ that much is that from our point of view ‘mental toughness’ is a slightly better description of the work we do. My elevator pitch when anyone asks me what I do and I say I’m a sport psychologist is something like this. “We help performers improve their mental toughness and mental health. When combined this goes a long way to allowing them to fulfil their potential as people and as performers”.
Mental Resilience vs. Mental Toughness
So our psychologists are basically using ‘mental toughness’ as a synonym of ‘mental resilience’. Note this is a major issue with modern day sport psychology. There are dozens of terms that get used by different practitioners that have a lot in common or are exactly the same as other terms. For example, focus and concentartion refer to exactly the same psychological concept. One thing, yet two words (labels) at least.
But maybe mental toughness and mental resilience are not exactly the same.
For readers who are either current or past Condor Performance clients or just avid followers of our regular Mental Toughness Digest posts may know we try to keep mental toughness as simple as possible. This is another ‘issue’ with sport psychology in 2021 which we are trying to do something about. It can often be too complex for its own good. The research is often highly academic and theoretical in nature, something forgetting that the end users almost always need and want really simple, practical solutions to common performance challenges. Again, a whole article could be created on this very topic.
The Metuf Big Five
Our team of psychologists (ten at the time of writing) generally break mental toughness down into five smaller, more manageable areas to work on. These are motivation, emotions, thoughts, unity and focus and spell out the word Metuf. With this in mind, how does resilience fit into the Metuf Big Five? Is it something seperate? Have we stumbled across a sixth? Should it be Metuf-R?
Will will come back to these questions later.
It’s hard to find anything close to a consistent definition for either mental toughness or mental resilience but if we ditch the ‘mental’ part beforehand here is what the words ‘toughness’ and ‘resilience’ mean according to Cambridge’s free online dictionary.
Toughness refers to “the quality of being not easily defeated or made weaker”.
Amazingly the two examples listed are: 1) She has a reputation for toughness and resilience and 2) He demonstrated the skills and mental toughness that are crucial for a goalkeeper.
Resilience means “the ability to be happy, successful, etc. again after something difficult or bad has happened”.
And the origin of the word is even more interesting and revealing.
1620s, “act of rebounding or springing back,” often of immaterial things, from Latin resiliens, present participle of resilire “to rebound, recoil,” from re- “back” (see re-) + salire “to jump, leap” (see salient (adj.)). Compare result (v.). In physical sciences, the meaning “elasticity, power of returning to original shape after compression, etc.” is by 1824.
So resilience, it appears, required someone unfortunate to occur before the bounce back. Whereas toughness doesn’t. In sport and performance the five most common setbacks are probably these:
1. The Mental Resilience required to come back from injury
The physical effort needed to recover from a serious sporting injury is obvious. But what about the role the mind plays in this often overwhelming task? Consider motivation alone. That rehab program, which is so important but can be so frustrating (as it reminds you of your injury moment by moment) doesn’t get done without strong internal commitment. For more on the psychology of injuries read this blog by my colleague David Barracosa.
2. responding after getting dropped
By ‘dropped’ I refer to not being selected for reasons other than an injury. In team sports this has become more common as more and more coaches use rotation policies. Regardless, it’s not easy to be told that you’re not playing this weekend after a week of solid effort. The message we often give our sporting clients in these situations is to use the disappointment to your advantage. In others words emotions are ‘energy in motion‘ so use the frustration of being deselected to improve your preparation. Take your emotion out on the rowing machine, not your coach.
3. Keep training during a pandemic
Most people will agree that the current Covid-19 pandemic and related issues very much count as a setback. I have been quite shocked at the number of athletes and coaches who have down tooled during the pandemic. “There is no point in me working hard when I don’t know when my next competition will take place” is something we are hearing a lot at the moment. Really? So you don’t want to get the jump on your rivals during a time when you have a lot more influence over all aspects of your preparation? The most challenging of times allow those with the best mental toolkit to raise to the top. And boy, these are the most challenging times.
4. The Mental Resilience required to perform well when life gets in the way
When life gets in the way refers to what happens to your immaculate training program for the week when your get gastro, for example. This phrase was first coined by our colleague Chris Pomfret. The ideal response to this kind of challenge is to focus as quickly as possible with what you can do. What you can’t do is typically obvious and unchangeable. Using the example of a sudden stomach bug, maybe you need to switch from actually ‘hitting balls’ to ‘visualising hitting balls’. If you have not idea how to visualise then watch this free 25 minute short video. And make sure to add some comments below about how to adapted the ideas for your sport and performance area.
5. Immediate psychological recovery – Bouncing Back whilst competing
There is one kind of setback that is especially common in competitive sport. To my knowledge it’s doesn’t have an offical name so let’s just call in In Game Setbacks. Although I’m very respectful that many sports don’t actually use the word game to refer to their competitive situations. In Game Setbacks refer to something going wrong in the heat of battle. Imagine a fullback in rugby league or union dropping the first high ball they try to catch. Imagine the ice hockey player missing an open net with 5 minutes to do whilst her team are one goal behind. Imaging a clay target shooter missing the first four targets are the day.
The mental skills that are most effective in these situations are the ones related to allowing the performer to ‘move on as quickly as possible’. Accept and act, basically. The best way to go about this will depend on your sport and just how much your performance is actually impacted by setbacks. This is where we come in …
If you are an athlete, sporting coach, sporting official or non sporting performer and would like the assistance from one of our growing team of sport psychologists / performance psychologists then the best place to start is by completing the applicable Mental Toughness Questionnaire at here. Once done, one of our team will then get back to you with your results and, if you have asked for it, detailed information about our sport psychology services.
Earlier I posed the question is mental resilience a part of mental toughness or seperate? At this stage, I feel it can fit under The Metuf Big Five. If you look at the suggestions above you’ll find all of them are versions of motivation, emotions, thoughts, unity and focus. And maybe a good way to think about the fact that resilience needs setbacks is both sport and life a full of setbacks.