Mental Toughness

Mental Toughness

Runners need mental toughness to finish the race. It is the voice during the parts of the course that no one is cheering at that motivates you to keep running fast.


Running requires a few key components: a pair of running shoes, daily practice, and mental toughness. Although physical attributes as speed and power are important to winning, mental toughness may play just as equal or maybe a more important role. Mental toughness is widely used across multiple sports but it is one of the least understood terms. Some define mental toughness as the ability to cope with or handle pressure, stress, and adversity, others define it as an ability to overcome or rebound from failures.

As coaches stress the importance of mental toughness, the concept is engraved into a runner's mind. During a race, it can be defeating to see other runners run past, tiring as the race progresses, and very painful as the soreness and strain starts to kick in. Having positive thoughts and feelings will lead to better performance and confidence to keep running. Conversely, negative thoughts will lead to negative feelings and ragged runs.

In fact, usually athletes pace themselves by feel. Emotions during a race can be divided into two layers: how the athlete feels and how the athlete feels about how they feel. The first layer is completely physiological and affected by the pain whereas the latter is emotional. However, it is the athlete's conscious decision to either perceive these emotions positively or negatively. It is difficult to be happy about racing a dreadfully long 5k through blazing hot weather conditions and throbbing pain but the mental toughness plays a role. These sensations of fatigue are thoughts of the brain trying to force you to slow down and decrease the pain.

For any given level of discomfort, an athlete can either have a good or a bad attitude. However, when they have a positive attitude, they are less bothered and will most likely push harder during the race. Some people have the natural tendency to overlook the pain stimulus by acceptance, whereas others suppress these stimuli. The right attitude towards the race will use the energy efficiently to finish the race in a personal record. No one usually has a positive attitude towards running because it causes pain and stimulates a rush of emotions that tend to get the best of you. Our perception towards mental toughness recalls to our openness towards the idea.

At the starting line of my last cross country race, I began with an attitude that I was not going to do well because I felt like I was extremely sore and the weather was starting to warm up. Due to my past injuries earlier in the season, I did not expect much from myself; in fact, my only goal was to finish. Many of my teammates were worried about this race because none of them wanted me to push my limits and risk my health.

But, I still stepped to the starting line and then the race commenced. The first mile was fast and intense. The critical point of the race was coming up. When I reached the desolate sector of the course, I realized I was only halfway done and the harsh conditions were starting to agitate me. The sun seemed to be shining brighter and the pain in my legs was tearing me apart. At that point, I could have easily dropped out and called it a day. I remember thinking about the race as the last of my high school career and the outlet for me to let my summer's hard work pay off which made my perception change positively, pushing me through the second half of the race with a runner's high. I was able to finish with a new season record and top 20 in my race. After all the adversity I faced during the season with my medical conditions, my mental toughness strengthened me and finally yielded results that rewarded my hard work.

During a race or any form of exercise, chemicals are released by the brain and improve our mood and minimize our pain. These feelings of pleasure improve our attitude and perception towards running and motivates us to run faster. Runners need mental toughness to finish the race. It is the voice during the parts of the course that no one is cheering at that motivates you to keep running fast.

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To The Coach Who Ruined The Game For Me

We can't blame you completely, but no one has ever stood up to you before.

I know you never gave it a second thought, the idea that you're the reason I and many others, never went any farther in our athletic careers.

I know you didn't sincerely care about our mental health, as long as we were physically healthy and our bodies were working enough to play. It's obvious your calling wasn't coaching and you weren't meant to work with young adults, some who look to you as a parent figure or a confidant.

I also know that if we were to express our concerns about the empty feeling we began to feel when we stepped onto the court, you wouldn't have taken the conversation seriously because it wasn't your problem.

I know we can't blame you completely, no one has ever stood up to you before. No one said anything when girls would spend their time in the locker room crying because of something that was said or when half the team considered quitting because it was just too much.

We can't get mad at the obvious favoritism because that's how sports are played.

Politics plays a huge role and if you want playing time, you have to know who to befriend. We CAN get mad at the obvious mistreatment, the empty threats, the verbal abuse, “It's not what you say, its how you say it."

We can get mad because a sport that we loved so deeply and had such passion for, was taken away from us single-handedly by an adult who does not care. I know a paycheck meant more to you than our wellbeing, and I know in a few years you probably won't even remember who we are, but we will always remember.

We will remember how excited we used to get on game days and how passionate we were when we played. How we wanted to continue on with our athletic careers to the next level when playing was actually fun. We will also always remember the sly remarks, the obvious dislike from the one person who was supposed to support and encourage us.

We will always remember the day things began to change and our love for the game started to fade.

I hope that one day, for the sake of the young athletes who still have a passion for what they do, you change.

I hope those same athletes walk into practice excited for the day, to get better and improve, instead of walking in with anxiety and worrying about how much trouble they would get into that day. I hope those athletes play their game and don't hold back when doing it, instead of playing safe, too afraid to get pulled and benched the rest of the season.

I hope they form an incredible bond with you, the kind of bond they tell their future children about, “That's the coach who made a difference for me when I was growing up, she's the reason I continued to play."

I don't blame you for everything that happened, we all made choices. I just hope that one day, you realize that what you're doing isn't working. I hope you realize that before any more athletes get to the point of hating the game they once loved.

To the coach that ruined the game for me, I hope you change.

Cover Image Credit: Author's photo

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I Wouldn't Trade My DII Experience To Play DI Athletics Any Day

I'm thankful that I didn't go DI because I wouldn't have had the best four-year experience as a college athlete.


As a high school athlete, the only goal is to play your varsity sport at the Division 1 level in college.

No one in high school talks about going to a Division 2 or 3 school, it's as if the only chance you have at playing college athletics is at the DI level. However, there are so many amazing opportunities to play a varsity sport at the DII and DIII level that are equally fun and competitive as playing for a division 1 team.

As a college athlete at the DII level, I hear so many DI athletes wishing they had played at the DII or DIII level. Because the fact of the matter is this: the division you play in really doesn't matter.

The problem is that DII and DIII sports aren't as celebrated as Division 1 athletics. You don't see the National Championships of Division 2 and 3 teams being broadcasted or followed by the entire country. It's sad because the highest levels of competition at the DII and DIII level are competing against some of the Division 1 teams widely celebrated across the country. Yet DII and DIII teams don't receive the recognition that DI athletics do.

Not everyone can be a DI athlete but that doesn't mean it's easy to be a DII or DIII athlete. The competition is just as tough as it is at the top for DII and DIII athletes. Maybe the stakes are higher for these athletes because they have to prove they are just as good as DI athletes. Division 2 and 3 athletes have just as much grit and determination as Division 1 athletes, without the glorified title of being "a division 1 athlete."

Also, playing at the DII or DIII level grants more opportunities to make your college experience your own, not your coach's.

I have heard countless horror stories in athletics over the course of my four-year journey however, the most heartbreaking come from athletes who lose their drive to compete because of the increased pressure from coaches or program. Division 1 athletics are historically tougher programs than Division 2 or 3 programs, making an athlete's college experience from one division to another significantly different.

The best part of not going to a division 1 school is knowing that even though my team doesn't have "DI" attached to it, we still have the opportunity to do something unique every time we arrive at an event. Just because we aren't "DI" athletes, we still have the drive and competitive spirit to go to an event and win. We are great players, and we have broken countless records as a team.

That's something we all have done together, and it's something we can take with us for the rest of our lives.

We each have our own mission when it comes to our college athletic careers, however together we prove to be resilient in the fight for the title. Giving it all when we practice and play is important, but the memories we have made behind the scenes as a team makes it all worth it, too.

The best part of being apart of college athletics is being able to be passionate about your sport with teammates that embody that same mindset. It's an added benefit to having teammates who become your best friends because it makes your victories even more victorious, and your defeats easier to bare.

No matter what level an athlete is playing at in college, it's important that all the hours spent at practice and on the road should be enjoyed with teammates that make the ride worthwhile. The experiences athletes have at any level are going to vary, but the teammates I have and the success we've had together is something I cherish and will take with me forever. I'm thankful that I didn't go DI because I wouldn't have had the best four-year experience as a college athlete.

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