Mental Toughness: The Importance of Body Language

March 16, 2012

Smiling Gymnast

Body language is vital in athletics. For example, look at its importance in gymnastics. Not only are gymnasts asked to execute incredible displays of athleticism, they must keep a cheery attitude the whole time. Gymnasts have to smile, even after a poor routine or dismount, although it could be the last thing they actually want to do.

"Body language doesn't talk; it screams."
We all have a mind-body relationship. Yes, our thoughts dictate how we feel, but the opposite is also true. Our body language can dictate our thoughts and our feelings. Simply put, mental toughness requires good body language.

"We can act our way into right thinking easier than we can think our way into right acting."
Our personality often dictates our body language. Some people show little emotion; they are even-keeled, and others cannot really tell how they are actually feeling (note: I wish this were me). On the opposite end, some athletes are incredibly energetic and visibly show their emotions. A display of positive emotion after a successful play can intimidate an opponent, but body language often becomes more important when we are not performing well.

"Fake it until you make it."
We've all been there—it is downright painful when we don't play well. The last thing we want to do is pretend that we're not frustrated. But we must address our body language. When you are are not doing well in a game, try to show the same body language you have when you are playing well.

  • Keep your head up
  • Encourage others
  • Clap, cheer or congratulate teammates
  • Hustle
  • Keep eye contact

"Act the part and you will become the part." — William James
Confident athletes have a presence, and their body language shows it. When we get nervous or lack confidence, we should instantly focus on our body language. Again, the mind-body relationship exists, and positive body language will essentially tell our mind that we are confident.

"Great players make others around them great."
No one can read our thoughts; they can only see our body language. We can be a good teammate and leader through our body language. It is easy to deal with others and be a good teammate when we are competing well. Yet mental toughness demands that we are a good teammate and a relentless competitor even when we are struggling.

Dr. Rob Bell is the owner of Dr. Rob Bell, LLC in Indianapolis, helping athletes, coaches, teams and parents build mental toughness. He is a certified sport psychology consultant with The Association of Applied Sport Psychology. He also works as a caddy on professional golf tours. His first book, Mental Toughness Training for Golf, was published in 2010. A prolific writer, Dr. Bell has been published in the Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, Journal of Athletic Insight, Journal of Sport Behavior and Encyclopedia of Sports. He writes extensively on the mental game—for, among others, Runner’s World, The New York Times and STACK  magazine—and he has been a presenter for numerous teams, schools and organizations. Dr. Bell earned his B.A. in psychology from Shepherd University; his M.Ed. in kinesiology, with a specialty in sport psychology, from Temple University; and his Ph.D. in sport psychology from the University of Tennessee.

Dr. Rob Bell
- Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology coach and owner of DRB & associates. He has worked with champions on the PGA Tour and has...
Dr. Rob Bell
- Dr. Rob Bell is a Sport Psychology coach and owner of DRB & associates. He has worked with champions on the PGA Tour and has...
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