When someone says that a player is or isn’t mentally tough I always reply with "what is mental toughness"?
This was a question that was asked to England's best players back in the mid-2000s by Dr Steve Bull and his Sports Psychology team. The findings of those discussions ultimately split the subject of mental toughness into 4 sub-categories: Fight, Inner Drive, Critical Moment Control and Resilience
By breaking the huge subject down, we are able to attribute characteristics that define each of these 4 sub-categories. As coaches, we can make interventions and build strategies into our planning that help to develop and challenge these capacities with our players and teams.
So let's take "fight" and delve a little deeper into the associated characteristics:
- Athlete warriors.
- Seek out the toughest challenges and love being exposed to the toughest oppositions, situations and environments.
- Epitomised by the Billy Ocean song: When The Going Gets Tough, The Tough Get Going
- Very often, they’ll need the toughness to be at its hardest for them to get the most out of themselves.
- Love the battle and will be the first on the team sheet when coming up against the stiffest of opposition.
Andrew Strauss was a player with bucket loads of fight: His innings of 106 at Old Trafford in 2005 after being totally cleaned up by a Brett Lee bouncer; his captain's innings of 110 at Brisbane in 2010/11 that helped turn a dangerous 200 run 1st innings deficit into a very safe draw; his 177 against NZ at Napier in 2007 that was career saving. Straussy had been dropped and then recalled for this series. With a duck in the first innings, it was "now or never". The Warrior came out and the rest, as they say is history.
So how can we develop fight in our players?
We can test and challenge it by creating extreme situations:
- increase the pace of bowling machines
- sidearm or throw down from closer
- put mats on the floor to create extra spin or irregular bounce
- practice on surfaces that are past their sell by date
- tiring players ahead of skill execution.
These principles are all come from the "Train hard, play easy" overload concept.
Another way is to build in consequences for the losing team or group. These are most effective if the consequence is made by the players, not coaches. One more tactic is to remove someone’s two best shots as an option for a net or to restrict the use of a certain delivery for a period of time in nets.
- Does the player recalibrate or get thrown off of their task?
- Does the body language change the verbal language shift or does the player see the restriction as a challenge?
As with all interventions, it is vital to review their impact on the performance of the player. We can take some learning from all situations. Questions and video evidence of good or bad body language and reactions are brilliant reflection tools to use with a player when developing mental toughness. here are two questions I love to use,
- When the player has shown fighting characteristics: "What was it that you did well that you would like to bottle up and use again in a similar situation in the future?"
- When the player has not shown fighting characteristics: "What would you do differently if you had the chance to replay that situation again?"
Give some of these strategies a go this week and report your finding back. I'm interested to find out about your fighters.