Mental toughness includes clear steps

Some of my favorite athletes are those who don’t possess the same natural ability or physical attributes as others around them, yet they compete at as high or even higher levels than those who appear more “gifted.” When asked how, these athletes inevitably say things like: “When my body tells me it’s done during a workout, I push through and do another 2 or 3 sets,” and, “I give all that I have in every drill of every practice, even if Coach isn’t watching.”

This mental toughness is critical to excelling in sports – and in life. As coaches who are followers of Christ, we want to help our athletes grow in mental toughness. In the last two devotions, we looked at the first two dimensions of developing mental toughness, adapted from Tim Kight’s insights on The Focus 3 Podcast. First, clarify what glorifies God in your present situation. This serves as motivation in the face of adversity: a clear mental picture of what could be as we stay mentally tough and push through obstacles to pursue what God desires for us. Second, honestly evaluate your current state. Consider the current emotions, thoughts, and actions that are hindering us from moving toward what would glorify God in our present situation.

This brings us to the third dimension of developing mental toughness: Identify the steps needed to go from your current state to what glorifies God. This is all about understanding concretely how to move from where you currently are (your current emotions, thoughts, and actions) to that place of glorifying God (the emotions, thoughts, and actions that reflect his desire for you).

In 2 Peter, Peter encourages his readers to pursue Christ-reflecting character, saying: “The more you grow like this, the more productive and useful you will be in your knowledge of our Lord Jesus Christ” (2 Pet. 1:8). He presents this clear picture of what God desires: that they would thrive in their relationship with Christ. But both he and they know they’re not there yet, so Peter lays out the steps toward this goal: “Supplement your faith with a generous provision of moral excellence, and moral excellence with knowledge…” – and he goes on to identify more of the progress and growth needed (vv. 5ff).

Peter recognizes that in order to move toward the vision of what God desires, it’s helpful to break down the path into the steps needed. These steps give a concrete understanding of what to do in the present moment so that we can make progress toward the ultimate goal. The same is true in the context of sports: effective coaches break down the path that will take their athletes from where they are to where they want to be into clear, concrete steps.

When you (and your athletes) understand ahead of time what you need to do to pursue the God-glorifying vision even if the going gets tough, and when you’ve resolved ahead of time to do it even though it’s tough – it makes all the difference in the heat of the moment. Rather than listening to the voices inside of you that say, “It’s too hard; I’m too tired; it’s too much to expect,” you can say: “Sure, it’s tough, but I know exactly what I need to do in moments like these. I’m going to discipline myself to do what I’ve already resolved to do because I want to glorify God above all else!”

Coach, give your players the gift of helping them plan and prepare to be mentally tough. Work with them to identify the steps needed to move from their present state to what would glorify God. This enables your players to develop God-honoring resolve. In our next devotion, we’ll consider how to access the resources God provides to actually take the steps needed.

For reflection: In what specific situations do you need to seek understanding of the steps required to help players move toward glorifying God? Take some time to talk with God about this, looking to him for his direction.