Athletics and mental toughness

In any sport, athletics, recreational, or combat, mental toughness is a prerequisite.

But you know that by now. Allow me to be possibly controversial. Boxing, other combat sports, and martial arts require the most mental toughness of all.

Let’s compare (off the top of my head) basketball, and boxing. Both are sports that can fatigue you greatly. You get your usual bumps and bruises. But it is one thing to be battered, bruised, and tired, and keep running and jumping. It is another to be battered, tired, and have someone in your face trying to knock your head off, and fighting back.

So while I’m not the best fighter out there, I have done enough years in martial arts and boxing to have learnt a few tricks about mental toughness. Please read on to find out what I would consider the most important in any sport or athletics.

The biggest step to mental toughness is learning how to deal with pain. And I hazard to say combat sportsmen and martial artists know more about it than any other.

What’s the secret then? It is simply to separate the pain from the injury.

The injury is what happens to you. You roll your ankle, you tear a muscle, you pop a joint, or you take a punch right on the chin.

The pain is how you react to it mentally and emotionally.

How you react to the injury is determined by your body. If you’ve torn all the muscles in your arm, no amount of mental toughness can make it punch or throw or swing again. That is a perfectly acceptable reason to stop playing, if you have to.

But pain can be ignored. Pain is what a sportsperson quit when they are physically able to continue. Pain is a close cousin of fear, and both are major obstacles to succeeding.

Here’s a story I like telling: There was a professional boxer at my gym that I used to spar. I outweigh him by a lot and I hit him with many good shots – and still he kept coming. It was amazing. After the session was over (and he kicked my ass), I asked him for his secret.

“Simple,” he said, “I don’t react to it. I know I got hit, I note the mistakes I made, and I keep going.”

And that’s it. Does that make him invincible? No. He has been knocked out before, but each time the injury was what stopped him, not the pain. He is renowned for his toughness and his warrior spirit, and his secret is simple.

Switch from “I am in pain” to “There is pain inside me.”

Note: Please keep in mind that if the injury is serious – take care of your health first. I’m not advocating you continue through serious injuries.