What Is Mental Toughness?

What Is Mental Toughness is one of the questions that international sports psychologist Gareth J. Mole addresses in his new book – due out in Oct 2019.

What is Mental Toughness? It’s a bit like one of the engines on a four engine plane.

I am sure almost everyone thinks about writing a book at one stage in their lives. I have felt like I have a couple of book in me for many years but for reasons beyond my control I have not ‘stepped up’ … until now. Since the start of 2019, I have been tapping away behind the scenes and am delighted to confirm that we’ll be seeking interest from publishers around Sept / Oct of this year. I am yet to pick a title for the book – which will be aimed at serious athletes and sporting coaches – but a large chunk of it is about mental toughness.

What is mental toughness, what is it not and how to improve it permanently are amongst the main topics that I explore in what I am calling a ‘guidebook’?

Partly due to the fact that my kids are currently on school holidays (which halves the amount of time I get to work) and partly to ‘test the water’ of my penmanship for this latest Mental Toughness Digest blog I have decided to paste an expert from the book – which is about two thirds finished. Enjoy, forward and constructive feedback via the comments sections below might just get you a free copy of the hardback in the post after we go to print.


Mental Toughness Targeted By Mental Preparation

Before going through the subcomponents of Mental Toughness I need to address what I assume will be the main point of controversy about this book – separating the mental side of performance from general wellbeing.

Or using terms you’re more likely to come across – considering both mental health and mental toughness as important but different.

For some of you, the aeroplane analogy will automatically do the explaining for me. Although the aircraft can be thought of as a single vessel in the same way that a person can be thought of as one being the fact is that each of these is made up of different interconnecting ‘bits’.

In the event that the aeroplane analogy doesn’t quite get the job done let me justify this approach future using some of the other engines as examples.

Most human beings do not require super fitness, amazing physical strength nor excellent flexiblity in order to function, thrive and be good at what they do. In fact, only relatively small amounts of physical activity may be needed in order for most people to experience the day to day benefits of exercise on their wellbeing. 

But if this person happens to be an athlete – and in particular an athlete of a physically demanding sport – such as biathlon or triathlon – then these small amounts of psychical activity will not be sufficient if they want to go as far in their chose sport as possible. 

Just Like An Aeroplane

If the purpose of the aircraft is simply to go for short 20 minute flights as part of a hobby group for amateur fliers then it still needs to function but the efficiency of the engines is less critical compared with an aeroplane that wants to fly as far as possible (safely).

So Mental Toughness joins the previously covered Physical Capabilities, Technical Consistency and Tactical Wisdom to make up the fourth and final engine – the four groups of ‘extras’ needed to go much further than might otherwise be possible. 

With this in mind, I will be guiding you through a number of different ideas that most people really never need to consider adding to their weekly routine. But the mental requirements of becoming the best possible athlete or sporting coach you can be are far from the mental requirements of basic functioning and wellbeing.

So what is Mental Toughness then? What are the subcomponents of this engine, what areas can we target for improvement in our quest to become mentally tougher?

After 15 years of helping mostly athletes with mostly their performance mental toughness, I believe that it is best broken down into these five key psychological subcomponents:

  • Motivation
  • Emotions
  • Thoughts
  • Unity
  • Focus

In other words the best possible answer I can give at this stage to the question ‘what is mental toughness’ is something along these lines:

Mental Toughness is an umbrella term that refers to varying levels and combinations of motivation towards training and competing, the ability to manage the full spectrum of emotions and thoughts, knowing when and how to switch on or off as well as team related factors such learning to respect your teammates.

Gareth J. Mole – Sports Psychologist – 2019

Most of the other labels that you’d expect to be here are either synonyms of one of these words or a type of one of the subcomponents or a combination of the both of these. For example, the words concentration and attention are both synonyms of focus. Confidence, pressure. fear and feeling relaxed are all types of emotions. Flow, one of the most common words in modern-day sport psychology, is really just a blend of high focus and relaxation.

In fact, I’m happy to invite any fan of Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi’s theory to compare what you currently do to get into a state of flow with my suggestions below and let me know which is more effective.


If you can wait until the book gets published to find out what the ‘below’ means then get in touch via our Contact Us form and ask for some information about our 1-on-1 mental toughness training options. We typically reply in less than 24 hours.

This Thing Called Culture

David Barracosa, Performance Psychologist from Condor Performance, discusses ‘culture’ in the aftermath of the ball tampering scandal in Australia.

The "Culture" of Aussie Cricket was tested and questioned in 2018.
The “Culture” of Aussie Cricket was tested and questioned in 2018.

Note: This article was written and published before major improvements were made in late 2018 to Metuf – the name given to the collection of mental skills that we use with our sporting and non-sporting clients. Due to this, the 5th paragraph mentions Commitment, Confidence, Communication, Concentration, Creativity and Consistency. In the latest version of Metuf, these have been replaced by Motivation, Emotions, Thoughts, Unity and Focus. For more information about Metuf please visit The Metuf Online homepage.

Anyone who has had the opportunity to read the previous edition of the Mental Toughness Digest would have been introduced to the story of Thomas, the young fisherman. The interesting part of Thomas’ story from a Mental Toughness perspective was that despite him not catching any fish for 14 days straight he maintained a motivation for the sport due to his focus on and enjoyment of the process. Reading this got me thinking about how this story of an individual would relate on a bigger scale to either a sporting team/organisation or even for an individual sports athlete training within their camp. It’s my belief this is where one of the biggest buzzwords in sports at the moment comes into the discussion – ‘culture’.

The idea of culture has been spoken about extensively recently due to the ball tampering saga that came over the Australian Cricket Team during their recent tour of South Africa. After the dust had settled and the individuals who were responsible for the act were handed down their punishments, a lot of questions were still being asked about how a group of highly regarded / paid professional athletes could have ended up in a predicament such as this?

What was going through their minds and through the locker room that led them to making such a decision? The talk switched from individual motivations to team culture and the importance of this mental element within the fabric of sport was, and potentially still is, being debated in social and professional sporting circles. Before I go on I wish to acknowledge that not every Australian cricketer was involved in the act of ball tampering and their names should not be smeared as a result. However, every Australian cricket player, coach, official and any other support staff has a role within and a responsibility to the culture within the team.

Culture is the collective mentality and values of a particular organisation and group of people.

It is something that can be inherited from those who were previously members of the said organisation but can also be quite fluid as some individuals depart and new individuals join. The right culture should never be “assumed”. A culture of sorts will always exist when a group of people come together and form a team whether they’re active in creating it in their preferred way or by letting it happen naturally. I’m of the opinion that it is something that should be named openly among everyone and worked on actively so each individual associated with the organisation can have a sense of ownership and pride over what they have created. Not only this but a strong and positive sense of culture also gives the organisation an identity; provides a guiding light to the individuals that can both be used as a motivator as well as creating a sense of accountability for everyone’s individual actions; can promote the wellbeing of an individual as they can feel accepted and belong; and, maybe the biggest thing of all, gives everyone the chance to develop a strong sense of each of Other Cs of Mental Toughness (Commitment, Confidence, Communication, Concentration, Creativity and Consistency).

If you are a leader of a team, or even a member of one, I hope as you read through the list of consequences that come from creating the right culture it gets you thinking about your organisation and what you can be doing to create an environment where all of this is possible. If this is the case, then my recommendation is that you waste no time in creating a situation where people can begin to contribute to a discussion and the shared values of the organisation can be formalised. From our perspective, one of the key things that should be kept in mind and included within the process is that we can only control our efforts and therefore the culture and pursuits of the organisation should focus on giving people the opportunity to achieve consistent and high quality effort, rather than having an obsession with results. People often talk about a “winning culture” within a team but for us, if this idea of “winning” is only focusing on the results you attain then you leave yourself and your organisation vulnerable when things are not going to plan, something it’s fair to say occurred for those individuals within the Australian Cricket Team. The team can have goals that strive towards certain achievements but along the way the true reward and meaning comes from how the team and individuals within it worked towards their achievements, not what was reached at the end of the road. Think about Thomas and his fishing endeavours.

A big part of our role when we work with an organisation is helping them to create discussion and opportunities that drive the ideas of culture for themselves. Every organisation is different and if you wish to discuss how you can achieve the right things for culture within your organisation then we would love to hear from you.

This article was written several months before a review into the culture of Australian cricket was released. The full review can be viewed or downloaded below in PDF format.

Communication is King

“Wise men speak because they have something to say; Fools because they have to say something.”

Plato
Chris Pomfret communicating with legendary mountain bike coach Donna Dall.
Chris Pomfret communicating with legendary mountain bike coach Donna Dall.

Note: This article was written and published before major improvements were made in late 2018 to Metuf – the name given to the collection of mental skills that we use with our sporting and non-sporting clients. Due to this, the 5th paragraph mentions Commitment, Confidence, Communication, Concentration, Creativity and Consistency. In the latest version of Metuf, these have been replaced by Motivation, Emotions, Thoughts, Unity and Focus. For more information about Metuf please visit The Metuf Online homepage.

Warning: If you’re not part of a traditional team sport and therefore think that an article about communication doesn’t apply to you in the same way it might apply to a rugby or soccer player for instance then think again. “Team” by our definition basically means group which basically means more than one person (typically with a common goal). So if you’re an individual sport athlete then your team is probably your family, your coach(es), your sport and performance psychologist (hopefully one of us) and anyone and everyone in your life with whom you have a relationship and therefore could help or hinder you with your goals. Of course for athletes of traditional team sports all these “support” people also apply but the overall number of personnel in your “team” is probably larger as you would include all the people you compete with.

Let’s start with a question. Is communication really a mental skill or is it more of a life skill? Well to be honest most psychological skills are life skills (some obvious whilst other are in disguise with a fake moustache and a wig) if you think about it. Let’s take commitment as an example. Yes, commitment (motivation, drive) is a mental nugget that is hugely valuable in sport and performance but really it’s useful for everyone in every situation. The kind of commitment that high performing athletes have to get up at 5am and train is not that different than the commitment shown by plumbers who get up at a similar time in order to earn an honest income.

Simply put, as human beings (no offence to any animals reading this we just don’t know enough about what makes you tick yet) our mental strengths and weaknesses spill into everything we do. Although at Condor Performance we tend to assist athletes, coaches and performers improve mental areas such as communication mainly for performance enhancement in most cases it benefits them well beyond their chosen sport and performance area (a nice side effect to working with someone trained in both general psychology as well as sport and performance psychology).

First we’ll clarify exactly what communication is and break it down and then afterwards we’ll provide insight into a couple of simple mental methods for improving it.

Although some people / professionals like to regard communication to include “communicating” with oneself our system of mental toughness training (Metuf) doesn’t as we feel there are better words for concepts like self-talk (e.g. thinking). Anyway, the word itself in English derives from the Latin communicare meaning “to share” and it’s technically not possible to share with yourself.

So how do we share (communicate) with others then? Basically, in either a non verbal (body language and facial expressions) way or a verbal way (words and all the things associated with the spoken word such as tone, volume, pitch etc). Then of course there is both the production of these (e.g. talking, grunting, throwing our racket etc) and the receiving of them too (e.g. listening, sensing distress just by the look on someones face).

As both sporting and non sporting clients of ours know one of the greatest strengths of the Metuf approach is the “breaking down of complex concepts into smaller, clearer more manageable parts” and we feel the best way to start improving communication is through a combination of exactly this and our Controlling It mental method.

Rather than rate yourself in terms of the 2 x 2 matrix formed by Non Verbal and Verbal along the side and Productive and Receptive along the top just assume all four facets of communication are important (by the way reading and writing are also technically part of the communication picture but have been left out of this article for the sake of simplicity). Try to spend 5 minutes a week on trying to improve each cell of the Matrix (20 minutes in total). For example, for Non Verbal x Productive you might practice doing something more conspicuous when angry such as squeezing the grip of your racket/bat/whatever you have nearby. For the Verbal / Productive cell it might be worth seeing if you can navigate the content of what you’re saying towards more Controllable / Highly Influenceable topics such as effort and away from less influenceable ones such as other people and uninfluenceable distractions such as your genetics.

As well as experimenting with how different WORDS can impact on your relationships why not also try seeing how difference ways of saying things can impact on the message too. For example try whispering “please send me more information about your services” and then say exactly the same eight words again in your normal voice.