Emotional Toughness: The Real X Factor

March 25, 2013 | Ryan Hoover

Rich Franklin

One major aspect of training that is often misunderstood is the concept of emotional toughness (ET). The common phrase, "mental toughness," is not only a misnomer, it defies logic. When a kicker approaches the tee for the potential game-winning field goal, or a rookie toes the free throw line for the deciding point, no one questions his IQ. The questions should be, "Can he control his emotions?" and "Will his emotions control him?"

If we assert that ET is real, is there anything an athlete or trainer can do to enhance it? The answer is "yes!" (Learn how the Navy SEALs use this principle.)

UFC fighter Rich Franklin told me, "I have always used the term 'mental conditioning,' but I do believe 'emotional conditioning' more accurately states the objective. I have always been a cerebral fighter, not letting my emotions get the best of me before or during a fight."

ET training is best (and perhaps fastest) catalyzed through the implementation of rigorous, often grueling, physical training. Much like military training and the use of "cognitive dissonance," trainers want to push athletes to the point of physical exhaustion. (This must be done in a regimented program, as a piece of the overall training protocol.) When an athlete's physicality begins to wage war with his emotions, when it would be easy to do "just enough," then and only then can we begin to achieve real growth. The growth occurs when "this is hard" becomes "I can't do this," and the athlete is left with the choice of self-discipline or self-regret. The emotions almost always wave the white flag before the body does. What athletes and trainers must realize is, there is virtually always more.

During ET training, it is imperative to challenge the notion that "moderation" is synonymous with "balance." Trainers need to light a path to greatness by occasionally pushing to the extreme, by beginning and continuing a physical training regimen that will develop and enhance their clients' physical and emotional robustness. When your athlete's body pleads with him to succumb to the discomfort and find refuge in mediocrity, that's when growth happens. Everything in moderation...unless you want to be great.

Once an athlete understands this, once she realizes she has the control, then she knows there is no inherent "power" in external factors. The only "power" granted is granted by the athlete. Whether the external factors are stadium noise, trash talk, inclement weather, a previous missed tackle or any number of other typical "reasons" for poor performance, the only way they can affect an athlete is if he or she allows it.

From Darren Hardy's book, The Compound Effect:

"During one of the important Majors, a psychologist timed Nicklaus from the moment he pulled the club out of the bag until the moment he hit the ball, and guess what? In each shot, from the first tee to the eighteenth green, the timing of Jack's routine supposedly never varied more than one second...The same psychologist measured Greg Norman during his unfortunate collapse at the 1996 Masters...his pre-shot routine got faster and faster as the round progressed...The moment Norman changed his routine, his performance became unpredictable and his results erratic."

What is the important lesson here? Power was given to the wrong things. Norman allowed factors outside of his control (prior bad shots) to negatively affect his actions in the moment.

Carolina Panthers DE Thomas Keiser commented, "The distinction you make about [ET] is spot on. Throughout my athletic career I've found that I've developed most not only as an athlete, but as a person, when my career hit rock bottom."

If we can get athletes to understand this, we can tap into the real "X factor" and enhance performance well beyond the purely physical. Everyone is looking for an edge. I believe the ability to control emotions at times of extreme stress and/or physical duress is that edge. It is what made Michael Jordan want the ball at the end of the game, even if he had missed his last six shots. It is what separates the good from the great. After all, who went to the gym today to get "good enough"?

Start your own emotional training by checking out the toughest workouts in STACK's Conditioning section.

Ryan Hoover
- Ryan Hoover is the co-founder of the We Are Fit to Fight program and a trainer of instructors in eight different countries. Over the past...
Ryan Hoover
- Ryan Hoover is the co-founder of the We Are Fit to Fight program and a trainer of instructors in eight different countries. Over the past...

Featured Videos

Blake Griffin Interview and Cover Shoot Blake Griffin Interview and Cover Shoot Views: 588,664
Learn to Hit Open Three-Pointers With Damian Lillard's Baseline Drift Drill Learn to Hit Open Three-Pointers With Damian Lillard's Baseline Drift Drill Views: 241,761
Elite Performance With Mike Boyle: Teach Any Athlete How To Squat Properly Elite Performance With Mike Boyle: Teach Any Athlete How To Squat Properly Views: 284,490
Load More

Resources

STACK Fitness

Everything you need to be fitter than ever

STACK Conditioning

Sport-specific conditioning programs

Coaches and Trainers

Tips and advice for coaches and trainers

Magazine

Latest issues of STACK Magazine

STACK 4W

Women's sports workout, nutrition and lifestyle advice

Gamer

Gaming, entertainment and tech news

Basic Training

Military-style training for athletes

News

Find the latest news relevant to athletes

Most Popular Videos

Dustin Pedroia on Training Dustin Pedroia on Training
Views: 10,920,844
Peyton Manning Dumbbell Bench With 80+ Pounds Peyton Manning Dumbbell Bench With 80+ Pounds
Views: 43,151,981
Robert Griffin III Pocket Presence QB Drill Robert Griffin III Pocket Presence QB Drill
Views: 6,866,164
Dwight Howard Stays in the Gym All Night Dwight Howard Stays in the Gym All Night
Views: 6,099,366
Drew Brees Will Not Be Denied Drew Brees Will Not Be Denied
Views: 12,009,040

Load More
More Cool Stuff You'll Like
5 Tips to Becoming a Successful Athlete

5 Tips to Becoming a Successful Athlete

Five Qualities Of A Successful Player - successful athlete Whether playing at the middle school, high school, college, pro, or even international level,...

Can a Faster Brain Increase Sports Performance?

Can a Faster Brain Increase Sports Performance?

4 Reasons Your Team Is Losing

4 Reasons Your Team Is Losing

How Mental Flexibility Boosts Your Game

How Mental Flexibility Boosts Your Game

Why Athletes Must Focus on Developing Their Own Identity

Why Athletes Must Focus on Developing Their Own Identity

4 Tips for Building Confidence

4 Tips for Building Confidence

The One Word You Should Never Say to Yourself

The One Word You Should Never Say to Yourself

How Clayton Kershaw Gets in the Zone

How Clayton Kershaw Gets in the Zone

5 Steps to Becoming a Better Coach

5 Steps to Becoming a Better Coach

What's Your Backup Plan When 'Plan A' Fails?

What's Your Backup Plan When 'Plan A' Fails?

Overcome the 5 Most Common Mental Mistakes in Sports

Overcome the 5 Most Common Mental Mistakes in Sports

Tips to Be a Better Leader

Tips to Be a Better Leader

How Mental Performance Affects Your Workouts

How Mental Performance Affects Your Workouts

Get Tough on Your Goals to Get Fit

Get Tough on Your Goals to Get Fit

Home Field Advantage Is Real, Says Science

Home Field Advantage Is Real, Says Science

5 Tips for Playing Mentally Tough Tennis

5 Tips for Playing Mentally Tough Tennis

5 Steps to Changing a Bad Habit

5 Steps to Changing a Bad Habit

Stress Exposure Training for Basketball

Stress Exposure Training for Basketball

How Mentally Tough Are You?

How Mentally Tough Are You?

Regain Your Confidence by Getting BIG

Regain Your Confidence by Getting BIG

Mental Warm-Up: How to Build Confidence Before a Game

Mental Warm-Up: How to Build Confidence Before a Game

3 Strategies to Reduce Stress and Increase Athletic Performance

3 Strategies to Reduce Stress and Increase Athletic Performance

Q&A: How to Deal With a Tough Coach

Q&A: How to Deal With a Tough Coach

A Coach Describes What It’s Like to Cut Players

A Coach Describes What It's Like to Cut Players

The Athletic Brain: How to Learn to Anticipate

The Athletic Brain: How to Learn to Anticipate

4 Obstacles to Better Goal Setting

4 Obstacles to Better Goal Setting

How to 'Keep Your Cool' on the Football Field

How to 'Keep Your Cool' on the Football Field

Study: Athletes Think Faster, More Accurately Than Non-Athletes

Study: Athletes Think Faster, More Accurately Than Non-Athletes

6 Ways Sport Parents Are Doing It Wrong

6 Ways Sport Parents Are Doing It Wrong

Use Sports Psychology Against Your Opponents

Use Sports Psychology Against Your Opponents

The Holistic Approach to Impactful Sports Coaching

The Holistic Approach to Impactful Sports Coaching

The Art of Strength and Conditioning Coaching

The Art of Strength and Conditioning Coaching

Growth Mindset: How to Think Like a Champion

Growth Mindset: How to Think Like a Champion

Does Home Field Actually Confer an Advantage?

Does Home Field Actually Confer an Advantage?

Using Sports Imagery as Pre-Performance Routine

Using Sports Imagery as Pre-Performance Routine

Why You Should Be Training Instead of Exercising

Why You Should Be Training Instead of Exercising

Build Mental Toughness in the Weight Room

Build Mental Toughness in the Weight Room

Overcome Your Fear of Failure

Overcome Your Fear of Failure

How to Improve Mental Focus on the Baseball Diamond

How to Improve Mental Focus on the Baseball Diamond

Positive Affirmations for Athletes

Positive Affirmations for Athletes

YardBarker