Mental Toughness Dos and Don’ts

by Elliott Waksman, MA, CMPC

Sweat filled practices. Check. Protein packed meals. You bet. Weekend workouts. On it. All that hard work always pays off, right? Well, not necessarily. The pillar of performance most players and coaches unfortunately overlook is mindset. Your hard work at practice and discipline at the dinner table pays off much more fully when complemented with a mentally tough mindset.

This guest article outlines mental toughness dos and don’ts, applicable to life on and off the field.

Mental Toughness Dos


Eagerness, enjoyment, and appreciation are three comments mentally tough athletes repeatedly report thinking back to their top performances. A University of Whales study, which examined world champion athletes and coaches identified an eager mindset [loving the pressure of competition] as the number one most essential attribute to being mentally tough.

Be eager for everything about the competition. Self-talk statements for players to develop that eagerness include, “I am here for a reason”, “I have earned this stage”, and “This is my time”. Similarly, a self-talk question players can ask themselves is, “Where else would I rather be?”

Questions coaches can ask to build an eager mindset within a team include, “What are you going to show us today?” and “What are you most excited for today?” Those game-day questions coupled with creating a fun environment will boost focus and mental toughness. One strategy the NBA world champion Warriors implement to create a fun environment is to reward their hardest working player that week with the privilege of playing their game-day music playlist.

Creating and Being an Eager Player


The appropriate energy level is no doubt another important factor in performance. Would a golfer executing a short putt perform well with the same level of energy as a linebacker running out on the football field for the first snap of the game? Of course not. Recognizing the ideal performance state comes from building self-awareness. Work to pick up on when you are no longer at that ideal energy state.

Coaches can help players recognize their ideal performance state by asking, “Rate your energy level during last week’s match, when you were so dominant. Can we get there again for today’s match?” After Action’s customizable questions could track these metrics from game to game to better identify the correlational relationship between great games and energy level. What gets measured, gets improved!

A strategy elite players use to pick up on their ideal energy level is mindfully being aware of their self-talk and body language. They pause for a moment and ask themselves, “Am I clapping? Am I fully into this? Is my head on a swivel? Am I walking tall?” Self-awareness is the key to ideal energy levels, which leads to peak performance.

Mental Toughness Don’ts


Effective coaches and captains don’t just assume information, such as responsibilities, player roles, and decisions, are a given. Assumptions can negatively impact communication, work rate, and productivity. Successful teams err on the side of caution when communicating. Work to clearly outline what the expected culture is and do not just assume the team will quickly pick up on trends.

Teams often fall victim to this during the pre-season by incorrectly assuming new players know what is expected. Proactive leaders politely pull teammates aside early on to explain the team’s expectations regarding logistics such as, dress code, timeliness, profanity, and transportation as well as outlining player roles by complimenting teammates’ unique strengths.


All too often student-athletes and coaches get caught up in the hype of a big game. The overdramatic mindset of ‘this one game means everything’ leads to injury, unproductive pressure, and unhealthy self-talk. Carson Wentz, the second overall pick in this year’s NFL draft, missed his junior year of football at North Dakota’s Century High due to a shoulder injury . If Wentz’s success story continued after dropping an entire season, you will surely survive a one game absence or poor performance.

There’s an App for That

After Action is a mobile app that makes player self-assessments quick and easy.

Tip: Already use TeamSnap? After Action has a built-in feature to easily import your team.

After Action is available on the App StoreGoogle Play and your favorite internet browser

A Framework of Mental Toughness in the World’s Best Performers, The Sport Psychologist, 2007.