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Strategies for Developing Mental Toughness in High School Athletes

Madison Q. Hunt, Courtney E. Novak, Leilani A. Madrigal, and Tiffanye M. Vargas

Strategies Cover January February 2020

High school student-athletes spend a great deal of time in their sport environment during the academic year, with some sports also training throughout summer break in order to prepare for the season. Therefore, these athletes spend a great deal of time with teammates and coaches, all of whom can potentially influence the lives of the athletes. High school coaches, in particular, interact with their athletes during a crucial developmental stage and may be instrumental in teaching and shaping athletes’ mental toughness, as some researchers have suggested that mental toughness may be a life skill that can be learned (Gould, Griffes, & Carson, 2011). This article further explains how high school coaches can foster mental toughness, specifically through implementation in practice and their interactions with athletes. The following recommendations are made based in part by our discussions with high school coaches on how they develop mental toughness at their competitive level. These strategies center on 1) coaching environment/communication, 2) mental components, and 3) instruction and drilling.

Mental toughness (MT) had been defined as, “a collection of values, attitudes, behaviors, and emotions that enable you to persevere and overcome any obstacle, adversity, or pressure experienced, but also maintain concentration and motivation when things are going well to consistently achieve your goals” (Gucciardi, Gordon, & Dimmock, 2008, p. 278). Understanding MT can aid coaches and athletes in maintaining a level of consistency and drive to achieve goals created as a team and individuals. In sport, coaches play a vital role in shaping athletes’ sporting attitudes, competence and performance (Chelladurai, 2007). Additionally, high school coaches face the challenge of molding their athletes at a critical developmental stage (Kendellen & Camiré, 2015). At the adolescent stages, coaches have the potential to shape athletes’ physical, social, cognitive and psychological development for future growth (Fraser-Thomas, Côté, & Deakin, 2005). Athletes at this age are pliable and capable of being shaped and influenced by adult figures. Since high school athletes spend a great deal of time with their team and coaches during their athletic careers, coaches play a vital role in developing and maintaining MT in these athletes (Connaughton, Wadey, Hanton, & Jones, 2008). High school coaches have explained various approaches, ranging from coaching environment to specific drills in practice, that they implement in order to promote the growth of MT within their teams (Madrigal & Vargas, 2019). Coaches can incorporate the tactics of a positive coaching environment, facilitating effective communication, and instilling mental skills into practices and team culture to create and develop MT within their teams.

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