Mental Toughness 4 – Tough Attitudes and Tough Thinking

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 and Stephen Bull’s research gave us.

What are the components of tough attitudes and tough thinking?

 Tough Attitudes

  • 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.

Tough thinking

 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.

 Robust Self-Confidence

 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.


  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Maintain self-focus. Not selfishness as such, but getting the balance right between the team’s needs, and being self-focussed.

Thinking clearly

 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;

  1. Good decision-making. Making the correct decisions with confidence at pivotal moments in the game.
  2. 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.
  3. 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




Mental Toughness 3 – What is to be learned?

In this third piece in the series we look at what Stephen Bull’s paper says are the external environmental factors that may affect mental toughness, and the qualities that represent ‘tough character’ itself.


 As you would expect, the environmental factors play a major role in developing mental toughness.  Parents can have a good or catastrophic influence on their child’s psychological development depending on how they approach the subject.  In this research every respondent noted a contribution from one or both parents to their success. Exactly what parents should and shouldn’t do to help their child develop will be explored in the final piece on mental toughness.

 The toughest players generally came up through an environment that pre-disposed them to be mentally tough, as one respondent noted:


The basic thing is, looking at all these names here,” (the list of top 15 toughest players), “one thing that strikingly stands out is their upbringing. I would say they are probably brought up by the school of hard knocks.”

 Given the English set-up’s pre-disposition to selecting the products of safe private-school educated environments, this may go some way towards explaining England’s perceived weakness in producing tough players.

 Surviving Early Set-Backs (Resilience)

 Many of the players in the study had had a far from smooth ride into professional cricket, however all felt that they had learned massively from the set-backs they had had. These experiences can’t be replicated as part of a coaching program of course, but it’s an interesting insight.

 Playing Cricket Abroad

 All the respondents had played cricket abroad (primarily in South Africa and Australia) during their formative years, and all saw it as a vital part of their toughening up process.


“I went to a club where people didn’t know who I was and being an Englishman in Australia you’re always going to be looked to, not so much down on, but you have to prove yourself more than an Australian.”


Tough Character

 Now we switch to those factors that are inherent in the cricketer him (or her) self. These tough character traits were seen as universal in tough minded individuals, and are more stable than the more easily acquired ‘Tough Attitudes’ traits.


 Respondents showed an aptitude and a willingness to take responsibility for their own career and development, as well ploughing an independent furrow in other non-sporting areas of their life.


“What you need to do is to go to Perth or Sydney, anywhere where you’re on your own with no Mom or Dad to look after you.  You’ve got to look after yourself, you’ve got to present yourself to the team you play for and show them what you can do. You’re either sink or swim. You’ll get up and mature, stand up for yourself, think things out for yourself, and work things out on your own.”


Self Reflection

 Tough-minded cricketers show a marked ability for self-reflection and self- analysis.  This constant honest re-evaluation of themselves and their performance is seen as critical to their performance and continues throughout their careers.

 Competitiveness With Self and Others

 Tough cricketers have a desire to be the best cricketers they can be. Though players did not necessarily set formal goals, they used competition with other players as well as this desire to be the best to push their development.

 “I want to play against the best bowlers – I want to play against the best – that’s the challenge for me.”

 Resilient Self-Confidence

 Self-confidence alone is not enough to be a mentally tough cricketer. Some players have high levels of self-confidence, but that confidence can be a very fragile thing. Mentally tough cricketers believe they can influence the outcome of every match they play, their confidence is high, and is very hard to undermine.

 This suggests that a key to building self confidence in young cricketers is not so much “how high can we build this player’s confidence?”, but rather “how can we protect the confidence that is already there?”.

 In the next piece we will be looking at those qualities that are a direct result of mental toughness, ‘Tough Attitudes’ and ‘Tough Thinking’.