Mental toughness is a combination of character and attitudes. It would be entirely possible to produce a player with tough attitudes, but without the tough character attributes such as resilient self-confidence, and independence, those attitudes would not be applied effectively. With that in mind, let’s continue to look at the insights into tough thinking and tough attitudes that Jones et.al. and Stephen Bull’s research gave us.
What are the components of tough attitudes and tough thinking?
- Exploit learning opportunities. A desire to learn and keep learning was evident. Defeat was not dwelled upon, but was learned from.
- Belief in quality preparation. Players believed that a thorough and consistent preparation is vital.
- Self-set challenging targets. This ties in with the tough character theme of ‘being competitive with yourself and others’. The ability to set challenging goals for yourself and not beat yourself up if you don’t make them is key.
- “Never say die” mind-set. Many respondents had had a rocky road to cricket professionalism, however they reported that they had brought out their best performances at exactly the moments when their best was required.
“You can throw whatever stones you want at me but I am not going off this course. I am getting there. I am right here. I will prove to you that I am right. It might take me ten or fifteen years but I will get there. I will play for England.”
- “Go the extra mile” mind-set. Along with the ‘never-say-die’ mind-set, this shows a level of tenacity and a commitment to hard work that delivers a strong desire to succeed.
- Determination to make the most of their ability. Many of the respondents described themselves as not the most naturally gifted of cricketers. However their determination to succeed allows them to develop an approach to the game that allowed the to excel.
- Belief In Making The Difference. Players believed that they alone could make the difference to their team’s outcomes. Players actively sought out that responsibility in key match situations.
“Taking the responsibility on your shoulders is what it’s all about…and the more responsibility I was given the better I reacted…the tighter the situation the more highly motivated I became. I kind of set the challenges to myself that it was up to me to drag us out of this mess”.
- Thrive on competition. Within the confines of the cricket match they tend to focus on the individual challenges they face rather than on the team competition. Surmounting these individual challenges is what motivates them.
- Willing to take risks. Not just within a game to take advantage of the situation, but with their entire careers. Players are able to change clubs or counties, or even move half way across the world if they feel it would help their career progression.
This is the part that sports psychologists dwell upon, as it focuses on ‘match-winning’ thinking. However I think you will now agree, that tough thinking is a product of everything that has come before, the environmental factors, the tough character and the tough attitudes. Tough thinking is about the player’s ability to focus the tough character and the tough attitudes to the task at hand in a competitive setting.
There are two branches to tough thinking that we need to discuss.
This has been a recurring theme, throughout our discussion; think back to the theme of ‘resilient confidence’ in the tough character section. In this context it refers to self-confidence in in-game performance thinking. It has three key manifestations.
- Overcoming self-doubt. Not just normal performance anxiety, but also in the field of international cricket when you do not have the evidence to know you can perform at that level.
- Feeding-off physical condition. Loehr stated that in the final analysis toughness is physical. Certainly the mind-body connection is a key component of self-confidence.
- Maintain self-focus. Not selfishness as such, but getting the balance right between the team’s needs, and being self-focussed.
This is about the ability to stay focussed and clear thinking in the face of duress or adversity. It is a combination of the following three factors;
- Good decision-making. Making the correct decisions with confidence at pivotal moments in the game.
- Keeping perspective. This is about striking the balance between expressing an attitude of immense importance attached to the competition, while at the same time knowing that it’s no big deal, and at the end of the day it’s just a game.
- Honest self-appraisal. Knowing exactly where your strengths and weaknesses lie, and making performance decisions based on that appraisal.
So we have seen what makes mental toughness, how tough character and tough attitudes combine to make tough thinking. In the final piece in this series we will look at how mental toughness can be developed in young cricketers, through the actions of the players themselves, their clubs, coaches, schools and parents.
Jones, J.G., Hanton, S., Connaughton, D. (2002) ‘What is This Thing Called Mental Toughness?’ Journal of Applied Sports Psychology, 14, 205-218
Loehr, J.E. (1995) ‘The New Toughness Training For Sports’. New York Penguin
Bull, S.J., Shambrook, C.J., James, W., Brooks, J.E. (2005) ‘Towards an Understanding of Mental Toughness in Elite English Cricketers’ Journal of Applied Sports Psychology, 17:209-227