Mental Toughness Program

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Background

Mentally tough athletes are those who have a natural or developed psychological edge that enables them to cope with sport demands (competition, training, pressure), while being more consistent in their determination, confidence, focus, and self-control (Jones et al., 2002). By being mentally tough, a student-athlete is able to perform to their potential more often, and ultimately function more optimally in the classroom, their relationships, and future career areas as well. Student-athletes are taught mental skills to utilize in improving performance outcomes by being more under control and self-aware. Such control and awareness helps student-athletes to make better decisions and handle stressors and adversity more effectively.

While all student-athletes and coaches understand the importance of physical preparation, mental preparation is another important component to succeed consistently at the high level expected at the University of Georgia. Like physical preparation, mental toughness requires practice and is not just a quick fix. Mental Toughness training is a valuable resource that is another piece to the performance excellence puzzle along with Sports Medicine, Athletic Training, Strength and Conditioning, Nutrition, and Academics. Finally, Mental Toughness training is a common practice for Olympic and professional teams and athletes. Research on the 1996 Atlanta Olympics (Gould et al., 1998) identified the top three reasons for success at the games including, mental skills preparation, attitude towards the Olympics, and support services and support facilitation.

Why is Mental Toughness Important?

Freshmen athletes have even greater stress (50-55% of freshmen student-athletes) with the adjustment to increased academic and athletic demands. High levels of stress in student-athletes lead to increased practice of bad habits (e.g., drinking, cheating) and psychological problems (e.g., depression, low self-esteem). Being a collegiate student-athlete presents unique challenges and stressors in the areas of personal life, academic demands, and athletic performance. The Mental Toughness program is devoted to assisting student-athletes as they face these challenges and stressors with the hope of improving the quality of their lives, both personally and in sport. Furthermore, this program will help student-athletes and coaches deal more effectively with stress, communication, and performance-related psychological issues. This program fits with the vision and mission of UGA athletics to be the premier intercollegiate athletic and academic program and emulate a model of excellence.

Who is the Mental Toughness Coach?

Services are provided by Angie Fifer, who is finishing her PhD in Sport Psychology from Michigan State University and the new Mental Toughness Coach here at UGA. The Mental Toughness program works in collaboration with the UGA Sports Medicine team to provide mental toughness services to UGA student-athletes and teams. Furthermore, the Mental Toughness program works closely with Clinical Psychologists and Sports Nutritionists to provide referrals when needed.

Philosophy of Mental Toughness Program

Philosophy - Educational, holistic, positive-psychological approach.

  • Educational approach to delivering psychological skills and tools for success.
  • Transferability of skills from athletic arena to everyday life.
  • Appreciation for the specialized needs of student-athletes, coaches, and teams.
  • Proactive strategies for performance excellence rather than retroactive problem-focused strategies.

Mission - To empower individuals and teams to use psychological skills and tools throughout their experiences at UGA to become one’s own lifelong student and then teacher of the mental game for success on the field and in life. This mission will be accomplished by:

  • Developing meaningful relationships, grounded in maintaining confidentiality, trust, and respect of the individual.
  • Enabling coaches, student-athletes, and support staff to develop a greater sense of awareness, self-control, and perspective.
  • Preparing athletes with mental tools that enhance practice and competitive performances within the sporting environment, as well as the ability to transfer these skills to non-sport environments.
  • Motivate student-athletes to become independent agents of change in being accountable and assuming responsibility for their own lives.
  • Performance improvements will be a result of controlling what is within their control, letting go of what is outside of their control, and understanding the difference.

Vision for Mental Toughness Program - Student-athletes will:

  • Be more focused on task-relevant cues rather than attending to on and off the field distractions.
  • Develop increased confidence for situations on and off the field.
  • Have more adaptive responses to adversity.
  • Demonstrate effective communication skills.
  • Experience behavioral improvements both on and off the field.
  • Make better decisions in difficult, risky, or stressful situations.

Services Provided

Team - team session(s) designed to teach broad, yet sport-specific psychological concepts including:

  • Team building, team dynamics, and communication
  • Psychological skills (focus, confidence, goal setting, coping with failure, adversity, and success, relaxation/imagery, motivation)
  • Quality practice
  • Psychological adjustment throughout the season
  • Dealing effectively with pressure

Individual - personalized one-on-one session designed to deliver and improve psychological skills including:

  • Communication skills (i.e., coach/team/parents)
  • Leadership development
  • Self-confidence
  • Overcoming fear and anxiety
  • Relaxation/imagery
  • Arousal regulation
  • Pre-performance routines
  • Dealing effectively with stressors
  • Role acceptance/changes
  • Injury, rehabilitation, and transition

Year-Round - Adapting services to best help student-athletes during different times of the season including:

  • Pre-season: teambuilding and setting a foundation of psychological skills.
  • In-season: maintenance and adjustment of core psychological skills and dealing with adversity.
  • Post-season: feedback, reflection, and improvement for the next year.

Contact: If you are a student-athlete interested in learning more or setting up an appointment, please speak with your coach, athletic trainer, or other member of the UGA Sports Medicine staff. You can also call 706-583-0450 or send an email to: afifer@sports.uga.edu.