By Brad Jurica and Anthony Eads, MTI Mental Trainers®

When the final horn sounds in the NFC East game this Sunday, the mentally toughest team will be the one lifting their coach. Football, especially football in December, is all about mental toughness. Jason Garrett even stated recently, “The best teams in this league are the mentally toughest teams.” 

This Sunday is going to be a genuine test and the Cowboys are likely to fail if they do not remove their self-limiting beliefs and external, outcome-oriented focus that has contributed to their fourth quarter inefficiencies throughout the year. By executing mental skills such as staying in the present and focusing on what can be controlled, Dallas may be able to overcome a season full of mental lapses that have contributed to their inability to meet the expectations of the team and their world-wide fan base. Moreover, Cowboys fans are primed for some results, and looking to the future during the game is a sure fire recipe for failure.

The paradigm shift that has been occurring in the field of sport psychology for some time now speaks directly to this phenomenon. When athletes continually focus on their record or what a win might mean, anxiety and pressure increase. As a result, confidence goes down and it’s more difficult to remain and feel in control.

The Cowboys have three fourth quarter collapses when leading by 12 or more points, including the 37-34 loss to the Giants in their first meeting this season. The Cowboys rank near the very bottom of the league in fourth quarter defense giving up 10 touchdowns and an average of more than 100 yards during crunch time. When statistics such as these are present, they are traditionally accompanied by a “playing not to lose” attitude. All of this can be resolved by the presence of leadership. Team captains need to step up and demonstrate a vocal and behavioral presence if the Cowboys are going to sustain a Giant attack.

The key to victory then remains in their ability to control the controllables. This is easier said than done. Jason Garrett and the Cowboys have a tendency to focus on their opponent, especially in the red zone, and make decisions out of fear of what their opponent will do. This external, future focus will surely lead to disastrous results as indicated by their current record. The Cowboys game plan moving forward into Sunday’s chess match needs to be more internal and present-focused (on variables that players have control over such as thoughts, emotions, decisions, attitude and effort). Doing so will allow each player, coach, and front office personnel to do his job and remain poised during the heat of battle.

The good news for the Cowboys is that their mental toughness can be improved and any performance limiting beliefs can be eliminated by focusing their thoughts on the present moment and controlling the controllables. The Dallas defense cannot focus on what the Giants have done in prior games or what they might do during this game (past and future focus is not where peak performance occurs). To have the best chance to win and advance into the playoffs, their focus on each play must be on these 5 things: ideal thoughts, emotions, decisions, attitude, and effort. If Jason Garrett and Rob Ryan call plays based on “uncontrollables,” the outcome may be heart-wrenching. However, if each player, coach and front office personnel does their job and take care of what they CAN control, fans will get a glimpse of the true potential of this team.

About Mental Training, Inc.
Mental Training Inc. (MTI) was founded in 2006 by Mental Trainer®, Dr. Robert Neff. MTI has a mission to provide customized, affordable mental training to athletes and executive coaching to business professionals around the world. To do this, MTI is building an extensive network of Certified Mental Trainers® to provide 1-on-1 and small-group training to performers of all age, experience, and competitive levels. MTI also built the first and only online mental training system that provides affordable, customized mental training to anyone regardless of where they live or the size of their organization. For the first time ever, all coaches, athletes and parents of a team or group can be on the same page mentally. You can connect with MTI at [email protected], at 877-744-5365 or go to