When is Enough, Enough?
“It is possible to have too much of a good thing:” Aesop
Many athletes come to that point in their lives where they’re faced with either taking a step back or going forward despite the risks and severe costs that may follow.
Public scrutiny and peer pressure have forced one-too-many athletes to cave and proceed to take steps in their careers that ruin them completely, all under the guise of being “mentally tough.”
What really is mental toughness? Is it truly as effective as we claim? Should athletes start to seek mentally healthier alternatives?
In sports psychology, mental toughness is that set of attributes that you develop and hone to help you become a better athlete. You learn to cope with difficult situations, strive through challenging competitions and come out with your confidence still intact.
To be mentally tough, you should be able to fight through your upper limits of performance regardless of any setbacks you may face. The keywords here are upper limits. Mental toughness is understanding the limits of your own performance and knowing when to stop or take a step back.
While mental toughness may seem like an excellent way to build athletes and prepare them for a great career, many coaches and mentors misuse the concept and push athletes past their limits, which could be counterproductive. Many athletes have trained themselves to push past their limits in the guise of building mental toughness.
But mental toughness is not relentlessly pursuing excellence beyond your limits even in the face of severe circumstances and damning the costs (injury, burnout, mental health challenges, etc.) This can be a very harmful school of thought that could be damaging to the athlete.
With the new focus on prioritizing mental health in sports that athletes like Simone Biles and Naomi Osaka are continuously turning our attention towards, the conversation should shift from athletes being mentally tough to being mentally “poised”.
Mental Poise is a better description of what athletes should embrace in place of mental toughness. Mental Poise, coined by Gardner and Moore, teaches athletes not to push past limits of physical and mental anguish, but to be very aware of the present, the environment, and their personal limits.
Know when you are most capable of performing and know when performing would be most detrimental for your well-being and others around you. Taking a step back does not mean selfishness or avoidance; instead, it shows respect; for yourself and your team.
With the aid of a therapist, you can unlearn poor choices that may stem from misusing mental toughness as an excuse to go beyond your upper limits. You can learn to make better choices through Mental Poise, for your mental health and career in general.