Is the obsession with state-of-the-art equipment and facilities a misguided focus, even a missed opportunity?
By Mim Haigh, Sports Writer – Athlete Assessments
Visit the Athletic Departments of any of the Power 5 Universities in the US, the European Football Clubs or even some of the most prestigious private high schools in Australia and you could easily believe that there’s an ‘arms race’ underway. In this case the ‘arms’ are equipment and facilities.
But, you don’t have to scratch far below the surface to reveal one of the biggest concerns for the Coaches that lead these athletic programs. They’re usually the first and quickest to identify what they’d swap the equipment for. It’s mental toughness in their athletes, because, impressive equipment aside, mental toughness is the illusive ingredient that’s required in the mix of skills to take the top position on any league tables. Coaches are acutely aware that their success or failure is directly linked to the mental toughness of their athletes, and shiny new equipment fades into the distance.
Mental toughness is the ultimate equalizer in sport.
Bo Hanson of Athlete Assessments says, “in my own Olympic career, we were constantly chasing the tiny 0.1% improvements in everything we did, and this is a powerful approach to take. We left no stone unturned in our pursuit of Olympic medals. What I know now, is that some gains are small incremental gains and others are game changers. Being tough as an athlete can leave your competition behind, especially when they’re not. Being tough as an athlete is a game changer.”
Hanson developed the term ‘athlete tough’ to describe the ability of an athlete to be their best when it matters the most and he sees this as the ability that’s most critical in sport.
“When an athlete is ‘athlete tough’, they can produce their best results when they’re under pressure. They’re able to block out distractions and focus on what matters the most.”
In sport, mental toughness is composed of true grit, resilience and the ability to perform under pressure. These terms are not interchangeable as they have different meanings. Instead, Hanson explains, “we combine all of these skills under the banner of mental toughness, we call it being ‘athlete tough’. Essentially, being ‘athlete tough’ is the ability to perform at your best when it matters the most. That’s what wins big competitions.”
When it comes to getting a significant competitive advantage, Hanson believes the obsession with the ‘arms race on equipment and facilities’ provides a huge opportunity for those who invest in the mental side of their sport. Those who are ‘athlete tough’ have something that many of their competitors are struggling with. Certainly, it can’t be bought and instead, it can only be earned – overtime.
Hanson is well placed to know the challenges facing Coaches competing at the elite end of sport. He spends his entire working day with them. “Since starting Athlete Assessments over a decade ago, we’ve worked with thousands of Coaches and athletes across almost every sport and what we’ve noticed is that unanimously, Coaches are at a loss when it comes to developing mental skills in their athletes. It’s quite common to hear a Coach describe some of their athletes as ‘soft’.”
The upside of this dilemma is the competitive advantage gained by getting it right. Hanson explains that the first step is viewing mental skills like physical ability, that is, something that can be worked on. Like a muscle, mental skills need to be exercised, used regularly and cultivated as part of the individual and team or club’s culture to get stronger.
This is the philosophy behind Athlete Tough, the step-by-step program that Hanson created to develop mental toughness in athletes.
On the evolution of the program, Hanson says, “I was constantly asked for my input into developing a mental approach to training and competition. But I didn’t want to write another book on the subject because there’s an entire library of quality books dedicated to developing mental skills. I wanted to make an impact and the only way I knew how to do that was by creating something that Coaches could implement and athletes could use. Being practical and easy to implement was key, otherwise it would just end up on people’s bookshelves.”
Instead of writing a book, Hanson developed a step-by-step program that included a workbook and video series. Coaches print a copy of the workbook for each of their athletes and they go through it together with additional support from the accompanying video series.
Hanson says, “my starting point was that mental toughness is not a mythical quality possessed by only a few. Instead, my approach in being ‘athlete tough’ is that toughness is a teachable skill. My primary motivation for developing the Athlete Tough program is to give athletes and Coaches the tools to be successful and ultimately become stronger people.”
Hanson explains the program is a culmination of his experiences as an athlete, Coach and consultant; and the tools and tactics he’s been using himself and with clients for over two decades.
He says, “while there’s an endless supply of quality sport psychology texts available, what Coaches were telling me was that they struggled to cut through the technical language used in these books and struggled to take this theory and put it into practice within their program. Our aim was to develop a program specifically for the Coach and athlete. We avoided long-winded theory and any out of touch anecdotes. Instead, we distilled the important sport psychology theory down into what Coaches and athletes really need to know. We explain concepts in terms that are easy to understand and more importantly, provide activities, exercises, projects and reflective journaling to put it into practice.”
“Also, we explain the difference between grit, resilience and mental toughness. Why these terms aren’t interchangeable, why they fall under the banner of mental toughness and why you need all of these attributes to be successful.
Hanson explains how some Coaches work through the program with their athletes. “The workbook has 15 chapters and most of our clients have scheduled an hour or so of dedicated time to go through a chapter each week over as many weeks. Each week they use the strategies at practice, receive feedback then re-evaluate and re-use next practice. They do this until it is a skill.”
Hanson shares some insights into the program, “workbook chapters include; Staying in The Game, Teaching Toughness, Bouncing Back, Mastering Accountability, The Most Critical Relationship in Sport, Conditioning Toughness and Staying Tough Under Pressure.”
“The Athlete Tough program is designed to ensure your athletes never give up, never quit on their team and never quit on themselves. It delivers proven strategies on how to help your athletes become and stay mentally strong.”
The team at Athlete Assessments is extremely proud of the program they’ve created and point to one of the many endorsements they’ve received from clients as testimony to its effectiveness.
“This program isn’t just about the theory behind improving athlete toughness. It gives you things along the way to help build toughness and put the theories and facts to work,” says SNHU Women’s Basketball Coach, Aly Hinton.
Want to be ATHLETE TOUGH?
Being ATHLETE TOUGH is defined by the actions you take when your performance matters the most. Bo Hanson’s unique and proven program is designed to ensure your athletes never give up, never quit on their team and never quit on themselves. It will deliver strategies on how to be mentally resilient and provide step-by-step processes to help your athletes become and stay mentally strong. Find out more here.