Saturday, April 14, 2012

Myth of Mental Toughness Column Focuses on Semantics

Dr. Denis Boucher wrote a column for The Hockey News entitled "The Myth of Mental Toughness". Dr. Boucher made some excellent points about managing thoughts and feelings by using mental skills training. There is no doubt that a hockey player that is able to control how he thinks and feels on the ice will be more confident, focused, and motivated.

Where I take issue is that Dr. Boucher, an exercise physiologist, suggests mental toughness is a myth. His argument is that focusing being tough means hiding from how you feel and not admitting your are anxious or need help. I totally agree with the idea that you don't want players to avoid their feelings and thoughts. This is what I call fragile confidence. Awareness and acceptance are the foundation of resilient confidence.

But Dr. Boucher's use of the term mental toughness is not accepted by many in the field of sport psychology. Mental toughness is about recognizing your thoughts and feelings and managing them. The crux of the issue comes down to the use of the term "toughness". For some toughness has bad connotations. For me and many of the hockey players I work with toughness has positive connotations. Toughness is being able to bounce back, like the Flyers, when you have a bad first period. Toughness is knowing how you feel, "man, it's Game 7, I am so nervous", accepting it, and then managing it.

Members of the field of sport psychology have been arguing about mental toughness as well, but I would say it is a moot  point. The consumer believes mental toughness exists and we, as experts in our field, have to help define mental toughness in a manner that enhances performances and does not facilitate toughness at the expense of awareness or responsibility. 

I am not sure why Dr. Boucher decides to "debunk" the idea of mental toughness. He could have instead highlighted the use of mental skills training and physiological measures to enhance performance. This is the true value of his column. I think he missed the important point here that mental skills can enhance performance and all hockey players should be working on their mental game.

Why continue to argue about whether mental toughness exists? The argument is really just semantics. A better use of our time would be to define mental toughness based on science and not on opinion, and then educate the consumer about what mental toughness is and is not, and how to develop it.

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