What is Athletic Toughness?

Just what qualities make or mar the top athlete? Talent is obviously important and all performers possess this in one measure or another. Basically talent defines the outer limits of achievement. Technical skills are also vital and these are learned by hard work, repetition and practice. Physical skills will restrict potential or will help it to flourish. Mental skills consist of emotional flexibility, the ability to absorb and process problems and remain balanced; emotional responsiveness, the ability to remain engaged and focussed under pressure; emotional strength, the ability to sustain one’s fighting spirit; emotional resilience, the ability to take a punch and to fight back.

Toughness is the capability of consistently performing at the upper limit of your talent and skill, REGARDLESS of the competitive situation.

Toughness –
• Is what enables you to bring all your talent and skill into action on demand; the limiting factor for most athletes is not talent but toughness.
• Is the Ideal Performance State. The IPS is typically accompanied by a very distinctive pattern of feelings and emotions.
• Is the ability to consistently access empowering emotions during competition, particularly at tough times; emotional control brings physical control.
• Is mental, physical and ultimately emotional – other aspects such as fitness, rest and diet all affect toughness.
• Is in the final analysis physical – thoughts, feelings, emotions, visualisations, are electrochemical events and therefore physical.

Emotions run the performance show and lead you closer or further away from your Ideal Performance State; confidence closer, fear further away, enjoyment and fun closer, temper and rage further away.

Training of Recovery
o When the point ends there should be a positive physical reaction (takes 3 to 5 seconds). Even in a worst case scenario your trained response should be positive (ok no real problem) as this enhances the flow of positive emotion.
o The following stage will be the relaxation response (takes from 6 to 20 seconds). Heart, blood pressure, muscle tension, breathing and brain activity will all slow down.
o The final stage will be preparation and ritual, where as the body stabilises and recovers properly, you can think clearly and plan ahead for the next points.

Recovery is the foundation of toughness. Without recovery stress increases, leading to further weakness and poor performance. The training of recovery should receive as much attention as dealing with stress, as it enables positive energy to be recaptured. Recovery occurs in 3 areas, mental, physical and emotional and is a period in which both growth and healing occur.

Players should recognise recovery for what it is –
 Physical – reduction in tension, breathing, and heart rates.
 Emotional – increase in positive feelings, satisfaction, pleasure, less fear, anger and frustration. Increased feelings of safety, security, self-esteem and personal fulfilment.
 Mental – Relief, calmness, feeling of slowing down and of creativity.

What gets in way of Toughness?
A number of things get in the way of toughness, as players fail to give their best efforts and then refuse to accept full responsibility for the outcome. The following 3 outcomes are ways in which players try to protect the real self from pain.
 Tanking or quitting. This is common among very talented players who feel that they have no chance of winning, therefore feel it’s easier to avoid pain by giving up.
 Getting angry and either directing this at others or even worse at themselves, focussing on the negative. Players then of course fail to fuel their competitive fires with positive emotion.
 Choking where players perform badly because of fear. They feel insecure and vulnerable, stop taking risks and allow fear to take over. Sadly choking indicates that the athlete is very close to the IPS. This is the stage just before the ideal state. All that is required is to just fight ones’ way through with 100% effort and total positivism.

One cannot do better than close with the words of Robert Louis Stevenson –- ‘You cannot run away from weakness, you must sometimes fight it out or perish; and if that be so why not now and where you stand’.