Teaching Mental Toughness – 7 Steps

Youth Athlete Training

-by Hall of Fame High School Coach Daryl Weber

In Part 1 of this series “Lies to Ungifted Athletes,” we dispel several myths we are led to believe about youth training… If you missed it take a look at it here.

What’s your favorite sports movie? Any Given Sunday? Rudy? I like Rocky. You remember the part where Rocky has to dig deep, against the odds, and sacrifices everything to win… Priceless.

I watched Rocky recently and it struck me that sports movies aren’t really about sports. Yes, they are framed inside a story about boxing or football, but they aren’t really why we watch. Truth is, those movies are about building one thing: Mental Toughness.Youth Athlete Training

Think about it. Rudy is about a guy who worked his way from a steel mill and onto the field at Notre Dame. That requires a dramatic amount of mental toughness. Rocky Balboa is a small-time boxer chosen to fight the champ when his opponent is injured. Rocky has to overcome some serious mental and physical obstacles just to get in the ring.

Sports movies are courageous adventures that inspire us to train harder, to live better. But what if you could train your athletes to be the hero of their own stories? Mental toughness is coachable. Whenever a new athlete entered my program, they didn’t know it but we were instantly working on building their mental toughness.  No matter if they were already tough as nails or soft as a cream puff…

They were in a system that was going to take them to new heights of confidence and mental strength…

Here is a list of my seven keys to mental toughness:

  1. Creating Interest and Keeping It – I use a simple metaphor to build interest. I tell athletes to see sports participation like putting pennies in a piggy bank. Every time they show up to practice, that investment pays off with wins in the future. After students see their time as valuable, it is harder for them for them to quit or to give less than 100%. Your team will feel like they have invested so much, they will go the extra mile when the time comes to dig deep.
  2. Model/Encourage Consistency – Show your team what it means to have a confident attitude by continuing to do what you say you are going to do. Your students will see you as a consistent force in their life. They will want to honor that commitment by upholding their end of the bargain. Your team will have the tools to avoid the pitfalls of modern life, as they model your ‘show up’ consistency. Your team will see you as a beacon to follow, a consistent hero.   
  3. Proper Goal Setting – Develop the Why – Setting goals with your team allows you to define where you want them to go as a unit and as individuals. Without a clear destination, nobody gets where they want to go. Setting goals allows teams to judge progress and arrive at a specific destination.  Learning goal setting is one of the strongest benefits of any sports program. Athletes get tools that carry them far beyond wrestling. What it would be like to congratulate your team for reaching their goal of a championship season?     
  4. Expect and Prepare for and Dealing with Adversity – Learning to handle adversity is one of the key skills a human needs to learn. To become a high-achiever, wrestlers must learn to use tools for handling adversity. To be honest, achievement equates to adversity. True mental toughness comes from the ability to stay positive and on task at the worst of times. Teaching this to your teams will be a part of your legacy as a coach.
  5. Process oriented not ends oriented – Accomplishing goals is about achieving tiny things over time. Athletes learn that it’s not all about winning. It’s more important to show up and over time you will win through the application of the process. Focusing on the process rather than focusing on results fosters maturity. Establish a system to deliver small victories on a regular basis. These steps lead to guaranteed achievement.
  6. Hold Yourself Accountable and Steer From Excuses – Excuses allow athletes to veer from the process of achievement. Teaching accountability empowers students to lean into accomplishing their goals. This installs a tiny version of their coach in the student’s head. The ‘Tiny Coach’ challenges them to fight through adversity and steer clear of excuses. If you can teach a student to choose a positive road when an authority figure gives them a reason to quit, you will have turned a child into an adult.   
  7. Having and keeping the right attitude – The wrestler with the best approach to his attitude will win every match, even if he gets outscored. Attitude is the foundation of every aspect of sports from training to game-day. Teaching attitude comes before you teach a kid how to score. If your kid has a bad attitude, you don’t have a player, you have a problem. We do not win by accident. Attitude gives birth to victory. It is in those moments where we have to dig into some untapped well of strength that we cross the line between student and champion.

I often hear parents and coaches talk about how a certain kid was naturally talented. Do you think Rudy was gifted? Absolutely, someone gave him the gift of grit, of learning to never give up. These things can be learned, just like we can learn to catch a ball or run a pass route.

I urge you to give up on the ‘gifted and talented’ line of thinking and realize that mental toughness can be coached, learned, and applied so that your kids can be the hero of their generation’s sports epic!

About Daryl Weber

Daryl Weber is a former NCAA Wrestling Champion, Strength Coach & Hall of Fame high school wrestling coach.  He coaches 15 years in Chrisitansburg, VA.  6 years as an assistant coach and 9 years as head coach of the Christiansburg Wrestling program.   During his 15 years the Christiansburg program won 14 consecutive state team championships, setting the record for any sport in the state of VA.  Daryl also started one of the top websites for coaches, parents and wrestlers in the sport of wrestling.  You can click here to find out more about Daryl Weber.