Aug 29

The Mind and Body Interrelationship

Share This Post!

I have always proposed that Elite, Professional and Olympic athletes of any nation are close or equal when it comes to physical and technical performance. It is, however, their differences in mental strength, the ability to be and stay focused. Likewise I foster the belief that developmental athletes need to learn and acquire these skills as early as possible, and also be introduced to simple progressive relaxation techniques.

Many times automatic possession of these skills is expected at the age 13-14 years (how? through osmosis?). Yes, it does take daily coaching of physical, technical, and the associated basic mental skills because they are equally important. Being in control of one’s emotions, maintaining focus and concentration – no matter the type of competition, match, or game on hand – contributes to an athlete’s overall well-being and self-confidence. Refer to the August Tip of the Month as it deals with ‘Attentiveness Training’ to strengthen mental capacity.

Now, let’s talk about ‘mental toughness’. What does this mean? Is it one’s ability to compete to perform despite one or many distractions, one’s ability to cope effectively under pressure, or both? Sport psychologists have become ‘mental performance consultants’ although they too encounter difficulties to exactly define the term or coming to a consensus. For some, the ability to rebound from set backs or performance failures is the mark of mental resiliency. For some, the ‘never give up attitude’ is the preferred definition, while others believe that one’s ability to win exemplifies ‘mental toughness.’


Canadian sport psychologist Halliwell talks about the 4 Cs – Calm – Composed – Controlled – and Confident, in his definition:

              …multi dimensional, which includes the ability to focus in an environment fraught with distractions, the capacity to embrace the moment, and the capability to manage emotional ups and downs that are part of every athlete’s reality…


However, the degree of ‘mental toughness’ varies between sports; for example, modern pentathlon or decathlon versus gymnastics or golfing. Nevertheless, there has to be a strong commitment, whatever the sport because the long road to become an elite athlete or champion is not necessarily without its ups and downs. Coaches in some sports believe strongly that overriding the ‘pain’ in training and competing represents ‘mental toughness’ while others consider the ability to remain calm, composed and confident under pressure as vital. Personally, I do not believe in the commonly accepted phrase “No pain – No gain” because ‘pain’ is defined as ‘physical suffering, torment, torture, and agony’, which means ‘get medical help!’ Athletes, in my opinion, incur muscle soreness or tenderness, body ache, throbbing, stinging, or twanging, which is creating personal ‘discomfort.’ I would not want to coach an ‘athlete in pain!’ However, athletes can learn to endure discomfort (Refer to August Tip of the Month).

Is ‘mental toughness’ innate, a personal trait, or is it learned? It makes for good philosophical and theoretical discussion! There seems to be an agreement that it can be developed. According to Halliwell, some of that acquisition occurs naturally as athletes rise above challenges. The rest can be taught primarily by sport psychologists, which means teaching athletes to become more positive during adversity, and remain focused on the ‘present’ instead of dwelling on past events or thinking about future ones and expected results (Refer to August Tip of the Month).


Halliwell states that,

              …the ‘true benefit of mental toughness’ is the psychological edge it provides. The goal is to respond better than the opponent to the pressure of competition and training. Call it a ‘thrill or a fight’ because the spot on the podium demands as much mental as physical fortitude. ‘Mentally tough’ athletes don’t need to convince themselves that they’re ready – they know it…


Reference: Barker, J. (2016, August 16). Olympians tough in Body and Mind. An athlete’s mental strength just as crucial as physical ability, experts say.The Calgary Herald, p. C3.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

You may use these HTML tags and attributes: <a href="" title=""> <abbr title=""> <acronym title=""> <b> <blockquote cite=""> <cite> <code> <del datetime=""> <em> <i> <q cite=""> <s> <strike> <strong>