”Mental toughness is a state of mind – you could call it character in action.”

Vince Lombardi

”Mental Toughness is doing the right thing for the team when it`s not the best thing for you. ”

Bill Belichick

”I’ve missed more than 9000 shots In my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I’ve been trusted to take the winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Michael Jordan

Succeeding in sports is a long and complex process. The journey to the top involves a number of challenges and turning points that will ultimately determine success. When researching successful athletes, they are often described as determined, committed, disciplined and people who have accepted the challenge and the journey with gratitude. But most of all, they are all united by a mentally hard mindset that believes that dreams can be achieved through patience and acceptance of challenges. 

Gucciardi and Hanton (2016) describe mental toughness as a personal capacity to deliver consistently high levels of performance despite varying levels of obstacles and challenges, distractions, pressures, and adversity. It can also be seen in the ability to maintain focus and cope with stress. In successful sports stories, it is often accompanied by resilience and ability to rise from challenges to victory. Clough, Earle and Sewell (2002) divide mental toughness into four dimension (The 4Cs):

  1. Control: Controlling the situation, even in difficult situations. The ability to control multiple things at the same time.
  2. Commitment: Full commitment to the goals and the journey to get there. Facing challenges and adversity.
  3. Challenge: Growth mindset. Things are seen as opportunities instead of threats. Challenges serve as learning experiences and mistakes as an opportunity for growth.
  4. Confidence: Despite the situation and events, confidence in oneself and the journey is maintained.Challenges serve as a test of mental toughness.

Mental toughness in training and competition

In sports, development takes place mainly through training and competition. A mentally tough athlete controls his or her own mind, environment, and post-performance thoughts. He takes ownership of himself and is able to perform even in challenging situations. Mental toughness occurs in an athlete’s attitude, training, competition, and post-performance self-reflection. So at every different stage of the process.When one of these dimension fails, it is difficult to succeed holistically and development slows down. For example, without the right attitude to training, it is difficult to succeed in competition.

Mental-toughness Framework. Jones, Hanton & Connaughton 2007.

The right attitude and mindset for the athlete is everything. An athlete must have a strong belief in himself and his goals. This is especially emphasized in difficult times. Indeed, mental toughness is often measured the most when things are not going as planned. Succeeding in sports is a long-term process, which is why belief in one’s own success is a key factor. Successes along the way help the athlete to continue and strengthen their faith. Often, however, belief alone is not enough, a clear reason for doing sport and a goal is needed. This makes it easier to stay focused and prioritize things. A clear vision of the goal will help the athlete stay focused and make everyday choices which support his or her goal setting in the short and long term.

Strong belief and clear focus, helps the athlete to train with a purpose. Goals provide extra motivation and help the athlete drive themselves to the limit. As the goal of training is development, this requires control of the environment.Mentally tough athletes shape their own environment and take responsibility for their own actions, which increases their sense of control. When the training is done with the quality and the environment supports the development, it is more likely to succeed in the competition. Mentally tough athletes are able to deal with factors related to the competitive situation, such as uncertainty and stress, and are at the their best level when it matters the most. They are able to adapt to the circumstances, control their own feelings and thoughts, and are able to perform even in challenging situations. Post-performance self-reflection is an important part of mental toughness. It is important to learn to deal with emotions after performance, whether it is a success or a failure. When analyzing performance, it is important to consider the factors that led to the outcome. Each performance teaches something and analyzing them helps to set a goal and maintain focus.

Psychological flexibility and resilience

Psychological flexibility is a skill or set of small skills that allows one to perceive the thoughts and feelings produced by one’s mind and to detach oneself from their power. In addition, psychological flexibility is the ability to act according to one’s own values in different situations despite possible unpleasant thoughts, feelings, and feelings within the body. In sports, it is impossible to control all events, but our own reaction to them can always be controlled. We decide how we react and what happens next. In practice, this means that we must first become aware of our own feelings and thoughts. Then take a distance from them and finally act according to our own values. Naturally, failures cause strong feelings in us but they should never control too much what we do.

In sport, the goal is to reach maximum potential, which is why it is a learning process that also includes failures. Resilience is an athlete’s ability to recover mentally, which is accentuated especially when faced with failures. It is a capacity or skill that helps an athlete to function successfully or adapt after a major set back or unpleasant life event. Resilience can be seen as a characteristic that some have and others do not. It can also be seen as a dynamic process where development can take place. In short, it is a quality that helps an athlete to cope with change and helps them function in a changing sports world. Psychological resilience consists of six components (Hayes, Luoma, Bond, Masuda & Lillis 2006) , which are values, commitment to living according to values, living in the present moment, perceptive self, acceptance, and impaired mental control.

Mental toughness in sport

Inside the mind of champions, Martin Hagger. TEDxPerth.

Transforming barriers to frontiers, Emilia Lahti. TEDxTurku.


Clough, P., Earle, K. & Sewell, D. 2002. Mental toughness: The concept and its measurement. Solutions in sport psychology.

Guggiardi, D. & Hanton, S. 2016. Mental toughness: Critical reflections and future considerations. The routledge international handbook of sport psychology. New York, Routledge.

Hayes, S.C., Luoma, J.B., Bond, F.W., Masuda, A. & Lillis, J. 2006. Acceptance and Commitment Therapy: Model, processes and outcomes. Behaviour Research and Therapy.

Jones, G., Hanton, S. & Connaughton, D. 2007. A framework of mental toughness in the world’s best performers. The Sport Psychologist.

Tossavainen, A. & Peltonen. A. 2021 Psyykkinen valmennus. Fitra.


Sport always involves winning and losing. At its purest, it is a fight of two people, teams, or individuals against their own boundaries. When talking about sports, words like self-confidence, courage, fear of failure, etc. often appear in conversations. In recent years, vulnerability have also been included in the discussions. In her book Dare to lead – Dr Brenè Brown describes the vulnerability as follows: emotion that we experience during times of uncertainty, risk, and emotional exposure. According to her vulnerability is not winning or losing. Its having the courage to show up when you can’t control the outcome. Vulnerability is surrender to the situation and if you try to avoid it, or you begin to avoid uncomfortable feelings, then you also stop growing. In this way you will deny yourself the opportunity to find your potential. So in the end, vulnerability is not a weakness, in fact, it is the opposite. It shows inner strength and integrity. It is courage and being brave.

The coach’s most important tool is his or her own identity, which makes it very personal and vulnerable. Coach has to face, and be able to deal, a lot of different kind of expectations from players, parents, club or media. However, even the best coach does not always succeed in everything. There are a lot of things in sports that we can’t fully control, like an opponent or the result. However, mistakes, losses and get fired from coaching job are part of the learning process. When you do your best and still fail, it is the best gift you can get.Without mistakes we don’t know what we could do better, and if we never make mistakes we haven’t tried enough. This is why it is important that players will see you as you truly are. Especially in difficult moments, when everything didn’t go like you wanted, and as a coach you show your feelings its sign of courage. It makes you give up your role as a coach and look like a human being. And this creates trust and a deeper connection between you and your players.

As a coach, we often talk to players that they should leave their comfort zone to evolve. What this means for the coach? First you need to accept yourself as you are and understand that no one is perfect. After that, you have to go out there. Do your best and also accept all the feelings related to vulnerability such as disappointment, shame and anxiety. These emotions tell you that you care (if you didn’t care, why would it worry you). It’s also telling about your courage to face these feelings. Live fully in every moment and face the result as it is. Be proud of yourself and remember everyone wants to be courageous but no on wants to be vulnerable.

You can learn more about this topic by listening to the Flying Coach podcast by renowned famous American coaches Steve Kerr (Golden State Warriors, NBA) and Pete Carroll (Seatle Seahawks, NFL), where Brenè Brown visited. She joins the conversation when the program is remaining 29min.

”vulnerability is not weakness it’s our greatest measure of courage.”

”You cannot unlock potential if you cannot unlock people.”

”I don’t know any people who get the skill before being vulnerable first”

”Is it more important for you to be knower or learner?” 

Brenè Brown

Watch more from Brenè Brown TED talk from: The price of Vulnerability

See also. Brenè Brown TED talks from: The power of Vulnerability


Why do we do what we do? What motivates and inspires us? Everything we do should have a purpose. In coaching it is to grow an independent and internally motivated athlete. At times, however, our athletes or environments require us to inspire and motivate them. According famous author Simon Sinek, who has written several books of leadership, in these situations communication should happen from inside out. This means that everything starts from a question WHY? It gives us the reason why we do what we do. It motivates others to take action and it explains our purpose and reason why we exist (e.g. Tesla – accelerate the world’s transition to sustainable energy or Apple – Think Different). According to Sinek people dont buy what you do, they buy why you do it. That`s why its very impactful way to communicate with others and inspire them to act. Knowing your why is not the only way to be successful, but it is the only way to maintain a lasting success. That`s why the question which we should keep asking is: Why did we start doing what we are doing in the first place?

In his book Start With Why, Sinek describes communication from inside out with Golden Circle. The main questions are WHY, HOW and WHAT. ”Why” describes what is your main purpose. What motivates you and what do you believe in (e.g from Apple – we challenge the status quo). After that, ”How” tells what are the specific actions which to take to achieve it. It also describes how we do things and how it separates us from the others. According to Sinek, for Apple, it could go like: We challenge the status quo by making our products beautifully designed simple to use and user-friendly. When we have the answers ready for the first two questions then it is easy to identify what is our ”What”. Those are our actions (We make great computers) which we take in order to achieve our main purpose.

The Golden Circle

1. WHY – The purpose: What you believe? What is your cause?

2. HOW -The process: Specific actions to taken realize your WHY.

3. WHAT -The result: What you do? Result of why.

When working with people, communicating is an extremely important skill for a coach. It is a way of influencing another person and creating trust. That’s why it is helpful to know the individual players, their personality, motivation and a reason why they are part of the team. This allows the coach to approach the player from an individual perspective and help him to achieve his own goals. When coaching a team (a group of several individuals), the coach’s job is to build a story to which the team members commit. Behind this story is the core idea of why the team exists and what it wants you to achieve. When the story is clear (especially for the coach), it makes it easier for everyone to act and helps you find the right direction even in difficult situations.

Simon Sinek`s TED talks presentation: How great leaders inspire action

It is important for a coach to create a deeper meaning for his actions and for his players/team. When players feel that they are part of a bigger entity (history, club identity, bigger story) it increases their attachment. Maybe then our stories looks something like this:

Source: Sinek, S. 2009. Start with why – how great leaders inspire everyone to take action. Penguin business.