Strength and conditioning, or more generally physical preparation, has been around since the dawn of man. Since that time, humans have searched for a leg up on the competition, whether it be the wooly mammoth for the village’s survival or an opponent in the first Olympics. Although perhaps unknowingly, and certainly without fancy terms like the ‘Physical Stress Theory,’ man was adapting to the physical demands life was placed on him.
The Physical Stress Theory
Only in more modern times have we begun using physical preparation science to reach new human feats. The Physical Stress Theory drives strength and conditioning – think Milo of Croton, periodization, and conditioning progressions. With humans breaking records and reaching peak performance at unprecedented rates, many believe, and possibly fear, that man’s physical improvements may cease. We’re not limitless creatures … or are we?
Thanks to human ingenuity, each time it’s believed we reached a limit, we find a way to push that limit just a bit further out. A sub-four-minute mile eluded the record books until Jim Ryun in 1965; a thousand-pound squat was thought impossible until Lee Moran officially hit it in 1984. We continue to refine training programs and regimes set by set or rep by rep until we’ve found the best way to train.
Psychology in PHYSICAL Preparation
The psychology of sport is learning how our mind can enhance or impede our physical performance. The best part is we can choose its impact on performance. With so much of the physical science having been explored, we’re only recently discovering the possibilities of the psyche’s impact on performance.
Strength and conditioning programs have become standard practice throughout the world, but only a few sport psychology programs have appeared to complement the physical preparation. By no means will mental preparation for sport outweigh the physical preparation, but you’re training muscles when you could be training athletes without the mental aspect.
Model of Mental Toughness
This Model of Mental Toughness was created by myself, Dr. Rick McGuire, Dr. Amber Selking. We developed this as a visual for how we can train complete athletes’ bodies and minds. We believe this model is the foundation of teaching athletes to master their mindset for optimal performance, what most of us refer to as “mental toughness.”
Mental toughness begins with examining and then optimizing the motivation for the athlete. Ideally, the motivation for the athlete is intrinsic, internal, approach-based, and positive.
Motivation can come from within (intrinsic) or from outside (extrinsic). It’s based on the source of the reward, such as the athlete knowing inside, “I did a good job” (intrinsic) vs. receiving praise from someone else for doing a good job (extrinsic). Although extrinsic praise and recognition can be helpful and motivating, true mental toughness requires the athlete to be intrinsically motivated. This will ensure when things get tough and naysayers come out of the woodwork, the athlete has the intrinsic reward coming from within to stay mentally tough.
The source of the reward mentioned above is closely tied to the source of the driver. An internally driven athlete will be more mentally tough than one who is externally driven to perform. To drive this point home, consider the athlete who is driven from within to succeed versus the athlete whose father or mother wants them to play the sport. The athlete who is internally driven to perform will better use their mental toughness as an advantage.
The next aspect of motivation of the athlete is determining the direction of the intended action. An athlete with an approach-based intention will be thinking along the lines of “I want to be the best.” Athletes who are the opposite and have avoidance-based intentions are performing solely to avoid a negative action, “I don’t want to get yelled at.” Think of the impact each approach will have during the countless reps throughout practice. One is working toward mastery, another is avoiding perceived negative consequences.
The fourth and final aspect of determining the motivation is within a positive or negative ethical context. Think of the athlete who will give 100% effort within the rules to win the game (positive) versus the athlete who will cheat to win (negative). An athlete with a positive ethical context in sport will have the leg up on their cheating, negative ethical competition in the long run.
To truly develop mental toughness, it must start at the foundation with the proper motivation. With that foundation on motivation, the pyramid’s next levels are stacked up to create a mentally tough athlete, ready for peak performance.