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Watch any sporting event on TV and you’ll hear it, “That athlete has mental toughness.” But what does that mean, and do you build it? Most announcers (and even former pros) have no clue where mental toughness comes from. They’re great at describing it though: staying calm after mistakes, perseverance, concentration, dealing with adversity, and performing well when it matters the most.

Although there appear to be some differences among sports, there is much more consistency across athletes, coaches, and sports. There appear to be four pillars of mental toughness: motivation, coping with pressure, concentration and confidence.

The 4 Pillars of Mental Toughness


  • Pushing yourself beyond your abilities
  • Working hard (harder than others)
  • Persistence – refusal to give up
  • Setting difficult/attainable goals
  • Bouncing back from performance setbacks
  • Internal motive to succeed

Coping With Pressure

  • Cope effectively with adversity
  • Stay calm under pressure
  • Accept that anxiety is inevitable – enjoy it
  • Make quick decisions under pressure
  • Thrive on the pressure
  • Maintain focus and effort under pressure

Concentration (Attentional Focus)

  • Remaining totally focused on the task
  • Not being distracted by events surrounding the performance of the task
  • Not being distracted by personal events
  • Remaining in control despite unexpected, uncontrollable events

Confidence (Self-Belief)

  • Having an unshakable belief in your ability to achieve your goals
  • Believing that you have unique qualities that will allow you to succeed
  • Believing that you can overcome obstacles placed in your way

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