Developing Toughness

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Are you mentally tough? Are you physically tough? You'll often hear pundits comment on an athlete's mental or physical toughness or lack of it when things go pear-shaped. Indeed, many athletes and teams turn to specialists to help develop mental and physical toughness.

Sometimes this takes the form of a military style boot camp in the misplaced hope that a couple of rough nights and someone shouting will suddenly develop mentally and physically tough athletes, capable of drawing on their new found 'toughness' during an Olympic final. Other times they'll go on a team-building weekend and work with a renowned adventurer. You know, the sort of person that sailed around the world or walked across a frozen wasteland. Again, there's a belief that this will stand the team in good stead during a relegation battle!

They will somehow become tough!

But as Denzil Washington's character in Man on Fire says, "There is no such thing as tough. There is trained and untrained." And this is an important distinction. People that display these much-coveted qualities of toughness are trained. Those that lack toughness are untrained. What we perceive as toughness is simply the result of training. We must understand that the training needs to have a specific focus and purpose. Military personnel or adventurers and explorers are very good at what they do. We consider them mentally and physically tough because they spent years training to cope with particular situations.

It doesn't necessarily transfer to sport!

Make the training specific. Become trained. Athletes that work hard in the gym, hone their skills on the training pitch become trained. They perform specific exercises and complete specific sessions to cope with the particular demands of their sport. They train with this performance outcome in mind. They become 'trained', and by being well trained, they will have the ability to deal with the difficult situations they encounter during competition. The side effect of their specific training is that they will become 'tough'.

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