Athletics and mental toughness

In sports, athletics, recreation or combat, mental toughness is a prerequisite. What’s one shift that will double your mental toughness?

But you know that now. Allow me to be perhaps controversial. Boxing, other combat sports, and martial arts require mental toughness the most of all.

Mental Strength In Sports

Let’s compare (from the top of my head) basketball, and boxing. Both are sports that can leave you exhausted. You get your usual bumps and bruises. But it’s one thing to be battered, bruised, and tired, and keep running and jumping. It’s another to be battered, tired, and having someone in your face trying to knock your head off, and fighting back.

So while I’m not the best fighter out there, I’ve done enough years in martial arts and boxing to learn a few tricks about mental toughness. Please read on to find out what I will consider most important in any sport or athletics.

The biggest step to mental toughness is learning how to deal with pain. And I am in danger of saying combat sportsmen and martial artists know more about it than anyone else.

Then what’s the secret? This is only to separate the pain from the injury.

Injury is what happened to you. You roll up your ankles, you tear a muscle, you pop a joint, or you take a punch right in the chin.

Building Mental Toughness as an Athlete

Pain is how you react to it mentally and emotionally. 

How you react to injury is determined by your body. If you’ve torn all the muscles in your arm, no amount of mental toughness can make him hit or throw or swing again. It’s a perfectly acceptable excuse to quit playing, if you have to.

But pain can be ignored. Pain is what stops sportsmen when they are physically able to continue. Pain is a close cousin of fear, and both are major obstacles to success.

Here’s a story I like to tell: There was a professional boxer in my gym who I used to spar. I outperformed him a lot and I hit him with lots of good shots – and still he keeps coming. It was amazing. After the session was over (and he kicked my ass), I asked him his secret.

“Simple,” he said, “I didn’t react to that. I knew I was shot, I recorded the mistakes I made, and I kept going.”

And that’s it. Does that make him invincible? Not. He had been knocked out before, but each time it was the injury that stopped him, not the pain. He was famous for his toughness and warrior spirit, and his secret was simple.

Going from “I am in pain” to “There is pain inside of me.”

Note: It is worth remembering that if the injury is serious – take care of your health first. I am not recommending that you continue through serious injury.

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Miriam Szymanski