Most athletic abilities—like strength, speed, agility and vertical jump—can be taught. You can also teach athletes how to shoot better in basketball, throw better in baseball and hit harder in football.
Another aspect of athletic performance, one that is not always viewed as a training method, is mental toughness. Mental toughness happens in the brain, so each individual athlete must determine whether his or her brain has matured enough to endure various types of stress. Here are some simple techniques to help you develop mental toughness in the weight room.
Know Your Athlete
One of the first ways to approach the development of mental toughness is to know your athlete. Some may be able to accept the truth behind every negative statement and use it for fuel, while others may shy away and shut down. Never let an athlete shut down on you—that is a sure sign of a soft athlete. Do not let your athletes know you are trying to make them tougher. Tell them they need to toughen up. If they repeatedly shut down on you, it’s time for a series of sit-down talks to see what’s going on in their lives.
The weight room is one of the best places to train mental toughness. Constantly reminding your athletes about the negatives of last season should become less of an embarrassment and more of a motivator. Adding more negativity—for example, constantly reminding the starting cornerback about all those yards and TDs he allowed last season, or reminding the point guard about the game-winning shot that he missed in the playoffs—should be fuel you feed your athletes to lift more weight and get that extra rep. Also, constantly remind them that their opponents are working harder to get better. This will help change your athletes’ mindset to train harder in the weight room.
Another method to develop mental toughness in the weight room is to construct a workout routine (once a week) where there is non-stop movement for a certain amount of time: sets without rest or water breaks. Obviously, we don’t want to dehydrate our athletes or have them pass out, so make sure that they are hydrated before doing circuit training. Then, no rest or drink until the set is complete. This method trains athletes to focus on the task at hand and to eliminate what their minds are telling their bodies to do—stop, get a drink and rest in the middle of a 30-second circuit. They must be mentally tough to remove that thought from their brains and complete the task at hand.
And to finish off, tell your athletes to digest this: In the crucial moments of a game when there are no timeouts or stoppage of play, there is no bench to sit on or water to drink. Focusing on the task at hand is the only option—failure is not!