The best examples of Mental Toughness happen well away from the spotlight – it’s just we rarely hear about them. Even as sport and performance psychologists the bulk of the time we spend with our sporting and non sporting clients is focussed on their potential mental improvements not so much their past mental achievements.
So you can imagine my delight when at a recent social event I was part of a conversation that contained one of the best examples of a Mental Toughness “cornerstone” I can remember in a long time; the unwavering commitment to the process regardless of the outcome.
The father of a five year old boy told of his son’s sudden interest in fishing having watched some Netflix fishing shows. So the father decided it would be a great idea to take young Thomas fishing despite neither of them knowing nothing much about the sport. After buying some basic equipment and getting some tips from the guy in the tackle shop the plan was to head out the very next day to see what they could catch.
So the father and the son woke before dawn and headed out to the fishing spot suggested by the guy in the tackle shop. All day they fished, improving their casting technique and enjoying each other’s company as the hours ticked by. But no fish were caught that first day. So they decided to try again the following day but once again they were not able to pull any fish from the water. This continued for 14 days straight. On each day they’d wake before the sun came up and tried their best to catch fish (actually, anything alive that lived in the water) only to return home empty handed.
When the father finished telling the story the obvious question had to be asked “how did you maintain your enthusiasm / motivation day after day despite catching no fish”. The father thought about this for a while before explaining that Thomas seems to be almost entirely motivated by the actual process of fishing (sitting on a river bank holding a fishing rod with his old man) rather than the outcome of task at hand (the number, size and type of fish successfully caught).
There is an incredible lesson to be learnt here for those in both sport and performance situations. Although “results” are important and probably spoken about like they are the most important aspect of high performance if you’re not enjoying the actual process then ultimately you’re not going to get very fast. The reason for this is rather simple, results are only influenceable (imagine the number of factors beyond your control in trying to get a fish to bite a tiny hook or to get a small white ball into a four and quarter inch hole in the ground) yet your enjoyment of the process can be controlled / guaranteed (with the right approach).
Australia is currently learning this the hard way as it approaches the end of a 10-year high-performance sporting model called “The Winning Edge” which obsesses about results. Yet ironically, the outcomes of the program are well off the benchmarks set eight years ago. Their goal for the 2016 Summer Olympics was to come in the top 5 yet Australia finished 10th on the medal table. The Winning Edge’s benchmark for the recent Winter Olympics was to come in the top 15 but when the final medal tally was produced Australia was a lowly 23rd.
Those in charge of the next 10-year high-performance sporting cycle in Australia would do well to replicate young Thomas the fisherman’s mindset if they really want results. And if you’re reading this and concerned about how to implement this across an entire club, sport or even nation – head straight to Metuf Online.