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  • Writer's pictureAimie Epoch

Why focus on building our athlete's mental resilience?

Mental resiliency, also known as psychological resilience or mental toughness, is “having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to, generally, cope better than your opponents with the many demands (competition, training, lifestyle) that sport places on a performer and, specifically, be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, and in control under pressure,” (Jones et al., 2007, p. 244). Mental resiliency is a plastic personality trait, meaning it can be developed, deteriorated, or stagnated. Mental resilience is influenced by both internal and external factors.

Mental toughness is influenced by internal factors such as:

  • Self-concept and character adaption (Aryanto & Larasati, 2020);

  • Self-esteem (Zeiger & Zeiger, 2018);

  • Self-insight and self-reflection (Aryanto & Larasati, 2020);

  • Self-determined motivation (Aryanto & Larasati, 2020);

  • Competitive trait anxiety (Aryanto & Larasati, 2020).

External factors that affect mental toughness include:

  • Psychological skills training (Aryanto & Larasati, 2020);

  • Physical training (Aryanto & Larasati, 2020);

  • Education (Zoe & Jessie, 2017);

  • Community size (Zalewska et al., 2019);

  • Attribution retaining programs (Parkes & Mallett, 2011);

  • Coaching style/coach behavior (Aryanto & Larasati, 2020).

Mental resiliency is incredibly important to athlete performance. This is because mentally resilient athletes have the knowledge and techniques to manage the demands of performing under pressure (Doughetry, 2017). Performance is undoubtedly regulated and influenced by mental factors (Howle & Eklund, 2013). An athlete’s abilities to regulate arousal, process information, and manage emotions are crucial determinants of optimal performance (Thomas et al., 1999). That being said, not every athlete is born with the natural ability to remain relaxed and utilize facilitative responses to stressors.

For this reason, athletes will need to learn the tools over time through education and application. Findings suggest that there are numerous psychological factors that protect elite athletes from the potential effects of stressors by influencing their challenge appraisal and meta-cognitions to promote a facilitative response that precede optimal performance (Fletcher & Sarkar, 2012). Researchers suggest that athletes may benefit from psychological skills training due to the way psychological strategies and performance indicators may help elucidate modifiable factors (Jackson et al., 2001; Krane & Williams, 2006).

Research suggests that psychological skills and tools likely contribute to the high-level performances seen in athletes are (Röthlin et al., 2016) , including but not limited to:

  • Self-compassion (Tingaz & Cakmak, 2021)

  • Mindfulness (Tingaz & Cakmak, 2021)

    • Meditation

    • Diaphragmatic Breath

    • Progressive Muscle Relaxation

  • Addressing self-talk (Hatzigeorgiadis et al., 2011; Hatzigeorgiadis et al., 2014; Birrer & Morgan, 2010; Weinberg & Williams, 2006; Yu, 2015; Calmels et al., 2003; Durand-Bush et al., 2001; Greenleaf et al., 2001)

    • Cognitive restructuring

    • Cognitive reappraisal

    • Rational thinking

Each athlete is unique and has different lived experiences and privilege. Not every skill will work for each athlete. This is why it is absolutely vital that our coaches have a variety of knowledge and skills required to support all athletes.

It is also the reason why I have written a book, that will soon be released in January 2023. To learn more about my book on athlete welfare:



Aryanto, D. B. & Larasati, A. (2020). Factors influencing mental toughness. Psychology. Advances in Social Science, Education and Humanities Research, 395, 307-309

Birrer, D. & Morgan, G. (2010). Psychological skills training as a way to enhance an athlete’s performance in high-intensity sports. Scandinavian Journal of Medicine & Science in Sports. doi:10.1111/j.1600-0838.2010..01188.x

Calmels, C., d’Arripe-Longueville, F., Soulard, A. (2003). Competitive strategies among elite female gymnasts: An exploration of the relative influence of psychological skills training and natural learning. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology. doi:10.1080/1612197x.2003.9671724

Durand-Bush, N., & Salmela, J. H. (2001). The Development of Talent in Sport. New York: Wiley.

Doughetry, D. (2017). The role of cognitive distortions in predicting cognitive distortions in athletes. Retrieved from PCOM Psychology Dissertations:

Greenleaf, C. Gould, D. Dieffenbach, K. (2001). Factors influencing Olympic performances: Interviews with Atlanta and Negano US Olympians. Journal of Applied Sports Psychology: 13, 154-184

Hatzigeorgiadis, A. Nikos, C. F. Z., Galanis, E., & Theodorakis, Y. (2011). Self-talk and sport performance: A meta-analysis. Perspectives on Psychological Science. DOI: 10.1177/1745691611413136

Hatzigeorgiadis, A., Galanis, E., Zourbanos, N., Theodorakis, Y. (2014). Self-talk and competitive sport performance. J Appl Sport Psychol.: 26, 82–95. doi: 10.1080/10413200.2013.790095.

Howle, T. C., & Eklund, R. C. (2013). The effect of induced self-presentation concerns on cognitive appraisal and affect. Anxiety, Stress & Coping: An International Journal, 26(6), 700–710.

Jackson, S. A., Thomas, P. R., Marsh, H. W., Smethurst, C. J. (2001). Relationships between flow, self-concept, psychological skills, and performance. J Appl Sport Psychol.: 13, 129–153. doi: 10.1080/104132001753149865.

Jones, G., Hanton, S., & Connaughton, D. (2007). A frameworkof mental toughness in the world’s best performers. The Sport Psychologist, 21, 243-264

Krane, V., Williams, J. M., & Williams, J. M. (2006). Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance. New York: McGraw-Hill; 2006. Psychological characteristics of peak performance; p. 207-227

Fletcher, D. & Sarkar, M. (2012). A grounded theory of psychological resilience in Olympic champions. Psychology of Sport and Exercise: 13(5)

Parkes, J. F., & Mallett, C. (2011). Developing mental toughness: Attributional style retraining in rugby. Sport Psychologist: 25(3).

Röthlin, P., Birrer, D., … Holtforth, M. G. (2016). Psychological skills training and a mindfulness-based intervention to enhance functional athletic performance: Design of a randomized controlled trial using ambulatory assessment: BMC Psychology: 4(39).

Tingaz, E. O., & Cakmak, S. (2021). Mindfulness, self-compassion, and athletic performance in student-athletes. Journal of Rational-Emotive and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy.

Weinberg, R. S., Williams, J. M., Williams, J. M. (2006). Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance. New York: McGraw- Hill

Yu, R. (2015). Choking under pressure: The neuropsychological mechanisms of incentive-induced performance decrements. Front. Behav. Neurosci. doi:10.3389/fnbeh.2015.00019

Zalewska, A. M., Rynkiewicz, B. Clough, P., & Dagnall, N. (2019). Mental toughness development through adolescence: Effects of age group and community size. Social Behavior and Personality An International Journal: 47(1), 1-8

Zeiger, J. S., & Zeiger, R. S. (2018) Mental toughness latent profiles in endurance athletes. PLoS ONE: 13(2)

Zoe, P., & Jessie, J. H. R. (2017). Mental health staff views on improving burnout and mental toughness. Journal of Mental Health Training, Education and Practice. 2017-0021

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