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.

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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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The Coach That Killed My Passion

An open letter to the coach that made me hate a sport I once loved.
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I fell in love with the game in second grade. I lived for every practice and every game. I lived for the countless hours in the gym or my driveway perfecting every shot, every pass and every move I could think of. Every night after dinner, I would go shoot and would not allow myself to go inside until I hit a hundred shots. I had a desire to play, to get better and to be the best basketball player I could possibly be.

I had many coaches between church leagues, rec leagues, personal coaches, basketball camps, middle school and high school. Most of the coaches I had the opportunity to play for had a passion for the game like I did. They inspired me to never stop working. They would tell me I had a natural ability. I took pride in knowing that I worked hard and I took pride in the compliments that I got from my coaches and other parents. I always looked forward to the drills and, believe it or not, I even looked forward to the running. These coaches had a desire to teach, and I had a desire to learn through every good and bad thing that happened during many seasons. Thank you to the coaches that coached and supported me through the years.

SEE ALSO: My Regrets From My Time As A College Softball Player

Along with the good coaches, are a few bad coaches. These are the coaches that focused on favorites instead of the good of the entire team. I had coaches that no matter how hard I worked, it would never be good enough for them. I had coaches that would take insults too far on the court and in the classroom.

I had coaches that killed my passion and love for the game of basketball.

When a passion dies, it is quite possibly the most heartbreaking thing ever. A desire you once had to play every second of the day is gone; it turns into dreading every practice and game. It turns into leaving every game with earphones in so other parents don't talk to you about it. It meant dreading school the next day due to everyone talking about the previous game. My passion was destroyed when a coach looked at me in the eyes and said, "You could go to any other school and start varsity, but you just can't play for me."

SEE ALSO: Should College Athletes Be Limited To One Sport?

Looking back now at the amount of tears shed after practices and games, I just want to say to this coach: Making me feel bad about myself doesn't make me want to play and work hard for you, whether in the classroom or on the court. Telling me that, "Hard work always pays off" and not keeping that word doesn't make me want to work hard either. I spent every minute of the day focusing on making sure you didn't see the pain that I felt, and all of my energy was put towards that fake smile when I said I was OK with how you treated me. There are not words for the feeling I got when parents of teammates asked why I didn't play more or why I got pulled after one mistake; I simply didn't have an answer. The way you made me feel about myself and my ability to play ball made me hate myself; not only did you make me doubt my ability to play, you turned my teammates against me to where they didn't trust my abilities. I would not wish the pain you caused me on my greatest enemy. I pray that one day, eventually, when all of your players quit coming back that you realize that it isn't all about winning records. It’s about the players. You can have winning records without a good coach if you have a good team, but you won’t have a team if you can't treat players with the respect they deserve.

SEE ALSO: To The Little Girl Picking Up A Basketball For The First Time


Cover Image Credit: Equality Charter School

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Figure Skating Is A Mental Game

Being a competitive athlete, there's many downs but there are moments where it's worth while.

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I feel so anxious that it feels like someone is constantly breathing down my neck. My heart is beating at 100 mph. My insides are tightening up and my palms are sweaty. My legs are frozen to a point where they are numb. The smell of hairspray and the taste of red lipstick lingers. The feeling of the ice against my blades is music to my ears. I tied my skates multiple times so it feels perfect. I keep moving to keep warm.

"Am I supposed to feel this way?".

"It's okay to feel this way, it's normal. I would be concerned if you didn't. Nevertheless, I believe in you. You have worked so hard for this".

"I feel like the weight of the world is on my shoulders, right now. If I don't do well, I failed everyone even myself".

"Don't think like that, you have prepared yourself well and you should have faith in yourself also. No matter what happens today, you should be proud of what you have accomplished in over the years you have skated. This is a lesson in life. If something knocks you down seven times, you get up eight times. That's what this sport has taught you. You are stronger than you think. This is your passion so let go of all of reality now and skate for yourself. Show everyone what you can do, this is your moment".

"Thank you, for everything".

She's right, you are stronger than you think. This is a mental game. If you tear yourself down, you're going to go down. Focus, you have to focus. As she said, you love this sport, the adrenaline and the feeling of being powerful. For once, you actually feel beautiful. Never mind that, but you are beautiful. Outside and in, and beautiful to watch. Skating is my escape from reality which is everything that I don't want, what I don't need. The pressure of being perfect, the mental breakdowns, the fear of failure, and the fear of getting hurt. Anything can happen within any moment but it's a risk that's worth taking.

Just forget it, there's no need to keep dwelling on the things that you can't change. This, right now, is all about you. This is your moment. Take it and never let go.

"And our next skater representing the Summit Figure Skating Club of North Carolina, Jessica Tran".

"Alright, do it to it".

I went out with a smile, the crowd cheering me on as I am getting ready to start my program.

"Breathe, take a deep breath. You got this, trust yourself".

As soon as I stood right in front of the judges, I was ready. The music began, filling the rink with a sudden shock. I turned on my character, my determination, and my love for skating.

Once the music stopped, everything stopped. It went by so fast that all I could really remember was the moment I finished. The heavy breathing, the sore arms, and weak legs. With a huge smile, I bowed to the judges and then to the crowd. I did it. I didn't care about the small mistakes that I did. I didn't care that I landed a difficult element. I didn't care that I fell on the easiest thing that I could do. All that mattered was the fact that I kept going. At the end of the day, medal or not, I'm still a winner.

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