Five tips to develop mental toughness

Mental toughness has received much attention in recent years. It has been defined as:


Mental toughness is having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to:

  • Generally, cope better than your opponents with the many demands (competition, training, lifestyle that sport places on a performer.
  • Specifically, be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure. (Jones, Hanton & Connaughton, 2002, p. 209)


Numerous attributes and characteristics have been identified as part of this concept including; having an unshakeable self-belief, bouncing back from performance setbacks, accepting anxiety and carrying on, to maintaining  technique under physical duress. The purpose of this article is to highlight five strategies to help develop some of these attributes.


Self-belief: A strategy that has been identified to help aid the development of self-belief is modelling Connaughton, Wadey, Hanton & Jones, 2008).  Watching other perform the skill and achieve what you aspire and then reinforce that you can do also achieve the same outcomes. This is most effective during the early stages of an athletic career. Similarly, having a coach or teammate that models behaviours can help to develop mental toughness (Butt, Gould & Culp, 2010).


Motivation: Aim to set yourself challenging goals with a mix of short, medium and long term goals. Set yourself a long-term goal you want to achieve followed by a stair-way of short term and medium term goals. While achieving these goals constantly review and refine the goals based on your performance. Similarly when setting these goals try to establish both performance based mastery goals as well as performance outcome goals.


An example of a process goal would be “to keep my head down during a swing”


An example of a performance outcome goal would be “to win this tournament/match/race”


Reflect: Maintain a reflective log where you can analyse what has and hasn’t worked in the pursuit of your goals. This allows you to identify what has gone well in a performance even if the result was not the ideal outcome. Similarly through this you can identify aspects that may not be working well and changing them for the future.


Personal Development:  Expose yourself to other cultures within your sport. This could be either domestic or abroad (Bull, Shambrook, James & Brooks, 2005).


Control your Environment: Work with your coach to ensure your training is tailored to your needs to maximise the benefit towards your goals. Establish a climate that is challenging, rewarding and enjoyable (Sheard 2010).




Bull, S. J., Shambrook, C. J., James, W., and Brook, J. (2005). Towards an understanding of mental toughness in elite English cricketers. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 17, 209-19.

Butt, J., Weinberg, R., & Culp, B. (2010). Exploring mental toughness in NCAA athletes. Journal of Intercollegiate Sport, 3, 316-332.

Connaughton, D., Wadey, R., Hanton, S., & Jones, G. (2008). The development and maintenance of mental toughness: Perceptions of elite performers. Journal of Sports Sciences, 26, 83-95.

Jones, G., Hanton, S., & Connaughton, D. (2002). What is this thing called mental toughness? An investigation of elite sports performers. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 14, 205-218.

Sheard, M. (2010). Mental toughness: The mindset behind sporting achievement. Hove: Routledge