Mental Toughness Starts Here

Success in sports often comes down to what you do when faced with discomfort, obstacles, and adversity. Athletes and teams that are able to push through when tempted to back off or give up are well on their way to excelling. But to push through when it’s difficult to do so requires mental toughness. How can athletes grow in mental toughness? As a coach, how can you more effectively lead your players in developing mental toughness?

Working with Coach Urban Meyer, Tim Kight served as the leadership coach for the Ohio State football team for several years. On The Focus 3 Podcast, Kight offers helpful insight on being mentally tough. Thinking more specifically about what God’s Word says this means for us as followers of Christ, I’ve adapted Kight’s thoughts. In this and the next few devotions we’ll consider four key dimensions for improving mental toughness:

1. Clarify what glorifies God in your present situation.

2. Honestly evaluate your current state.

3. Identify the steps needed to go from your current state to what glorifies God.

4. Leverage the resources God provides to take the needed steps.

Here’s the first dimension of mental toughness: Clarify what glorifies God in your present situation. To be mentally tough, we need to be able to focus on a mental picture of the desired outcome: what can be and what will be as we’re able to push through the discomfort, obstacles, and adversity we’re facing. When we instead let current adverse circumstances and pressures dominate our focus, performance is compromised, leading to something less than the desired outcome.

As followers of Christ, how do we develop the “what can be” picture needed to be mentally tough? Romans 12:1-2 points the way: “And so, dear brothers and sisters, I plead with you to give your bodies to God because of all he has done for you. Let them be a living and holy sacrifice—the kind he will find acceptable. This is truly the way to worship him. Don’t copy the behavior and customs of this world, but let God transform you into a new person by changing the way you think. Then you will learn to know God’s will for you, which is good and pleasing and perfect.”

As those who worship Jesus, we want God to transform our thinking so that we consider every situation according to God’s will: that is, what glorifies him and leads us into the life he desires for us. God’s Word shows us God’s will. As a coach or athlete, God’s will includes things like competing with excellence as an offering of praise to him. It includes doing everything without complaining or arguing even in hard situations. It includes wanting our actions and words to point people to Christ even when competitive tensions are high. It includes persevering through trials and discomfort rather than giving up, reflecting the way Jesus endured intense suffering for our sake.

As Rom. 12:2 says, God’s will for you “is good and pleasing and perfect.” It’s the very best of what can be and what will be as we pursue the course of action God desires for us. It leads to the greatest possible outcome: God is glorified in our present situation no matter what obstacles or pressures we’re encountering.

Start with a clear vision of what it would look like to glorify God in your present situation, whether it’s a workout, team practice, or competition against an opponent. This mental picture of the ultimate desired outcome lays the foundation for mental toughness. When you’re clear on what glorifies God in your present situation, you’re motivated to stay the course and to coach your players to stay the course in spite of adversity because you can visualize the long-term payoff.

For reflection: In the situations you’re facing in which you need growth in mental toughness, ask God to continue to transform your thinking. Ask him for greater clarity on what his will is and what would glorify him in these situations.