MENTAL TOUGHNESS: A two minute drill to sharpen the MENTAL TOUGHNESS of ANY team

One of the greatest needs of almost every coach, athlete and team, is a drill or mechanism that can enhance a team’s focus, poise, and mental toughness – in a relatively short space of time. Why a relatively short space of time? Because over the past 14 years of working with over 300 University athletic programs, I know that most programs prize the development of greater mental toughness, but most programs can only dedicate a limited amount of time to their mental toughness development. Coaches often have to balance individual skill and player development, team offense and team defense (for team sports), conditioning, speed, agility, quickness and conditioning etc., within a finite amount of allowed practice time and contact hours.

Though this article is not intended to be a full substitute for the complete mental skills and mental toughness training development of a team or athlete, the goal of this article is to introduce a mechanism that I use called ‘The Take Two’ that can help to sharpen any athlete or team’s mental focus, performance consistency and overall mental toughness in about two minutes. The Take Two takes the form of a single sheet of 8 ½ by 11 paper that becomes a critical checklist, a source of self-analysis, and an all-important source of self-accountability.

It has often been said that sometimes things do not fully go according to plan in a given season ……because the mental part of that plan didn’t fully exist in the first place! The Icebox Take Two provides a daily check-list and plan that directs the focus of each athlete toward some of the most important components of mental toughness and the mentally tough athlete. The Take Two should last no more than two minutes and should be completed after every practice. Finally the Take Two should also be viewed a few minutes before every practice so that the athlete can remind himself/herself of the last scores they created after the previous practice or game, and with laser-like focus have a very individualized roadmap for the mental toughness improvements that are needed for today’s practice or game. Each component of the Take Two should be completed by the athlete in a self-graded format on a scale of 1-10 after every practice and game.

mental toughness

Part 1 – Reminding the athlete of four types of championship level commitment

The first part of the Take Two provides a reminder of the four important levels/components of championship level commitment. These components remind the athlete of the importance of full and absolute commitment to the upcoming practice or game. The first level of commitment is a commitment to being teachable. Being teachable means the athlete is committed to being open and accepting of EVERY situation of teaching and instruction in the practice or game, even if that instruction takes the form of occasional harsh criticism. The second level of commitment is verbal. Athletes should be prepared to be verbally ‘all-in’ in the practice, to make sure their voice is a constant source of loud encouragement with teammates, a source of confidence for teammates (and on a more limited basis an occasional source of accountability for teammates when necessary) and a general voice of enthusiasm that lets everyone know that they are totally behind and supportive of the direction that the team is heading toward. While many athletes can be verbally committed to practice, few can get close to a consistent 100% physical commitment in practice. Athletes who grade themselves with a 9 and above in this category of physical commitment should live by the drill-by-drill maxim that it would be close to physically impossible for them to have worked any harder on each and every drill in practice.

As tough as it is for athletes to achieve a consistent 100%’ physical commitment in practice, it takes even more to be fully emotionally committed for an entire practice. Why is emotional commitment so challenging in light of physical commitment? First, very competitive athletes often demonstrate very high levels of physical commitment, but that does not mean that these same athletes have a ‘team first’ mentality and are fully committed emotionally to the interests of the team. Second, full emotional commitment means that the athlete is completely prepared to circumvent personal interests for the interests of the team. This type of selfless commitment takes a very special type of mental toughness. Athletes who have this type of mental toughness and selfless commitment are very rare and special. They help poorly talented teams become competitive and they help good teams become championship caliber teams. They do all the little things in practice, and they often do them BEFORE they are asked. These types of athletes are a joy to coach and a joy to have as teammates. They are able to do many of the little extra things in practice before they are asked because they are constantly thinking about the needs of the team, the goals of the practice, and the goals of the team ahead of themselves, so they are able to anticipate team needs in a given practice even before some of these needs are communicated by the coach or other teammates.

Thus, the top of the Take Two should look like this:

Take Two Mental Toughness Checklist

Athletes name _____________

Date __________

Practice/Game Venue__________________

  1. Commitment Score
  1. a) Teachable ____
  2. b) Verbal ____
  3. c) Physical ____
  4. d) Emotional ____

After changing out of their practice or game-time uniform, athletes should take a few moments to critically grade themselves on how they just performed in each of the four commitment categories. Smart coaches might fill out a separate Take Two on each athlete following the same practice or game, and when necessary meet the following day with the athlete before practice to compare and discuss the scores from the previous day.

Athletes who struggle with commitment should be reminded of the great maxim “the pain of not achieving our goals will always be greater than any pain it takes to achieve them.” Yes, working at close to 100% commitment takes effort and can hurt a little, but it hurts a lot more when we underachieve and do not live up to our potential.

Part 2 – The three critical self-accountability questions

Finally, three open-ended questions are used to create a self-evaluation on other important aspects of the last practice or game. Self-driven accountability and mental toughness go hand in hand. In addition, self-driven accountability is almost always more powerful than any other form of accountability. The three questions are:

1) How do you feel about today’s performance?

2) If you could play the practice or game over, what would you do differently?

3) If you could play the practice or game over, what would you do the same?

For each of these questions, athletes should have a column for physical components and a column for mental components

Out of these questions emerge one of the most beautiful words in all of sports…..TREND. Athletes are able to keep these daily Take Two’s in a folder and with these three critical self-accountability questions, the athlete will automatically know what he/she is doing well, and what he/she is not doing well over a number of many days, weeks and months. It is so much easier to maximize strengths and make adjustments to mental and physical errors and inconsistencies when armed with the answers to these important questions. In a similar manner to the grades on commitment, coaches can also complete the answers to these questions on a separate Take Two and when necessary compare the coach’s Take Two evaluation to the athlete’s Take Two evaluation. This comparison can result in some excellent teaching and improvement opportunities.

Start using the Icebox Take Two on a daily basis for two minutes before and after every practice and enjoy the improvements to your team’s mental focus, performance consistency and overall mental toughness!

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