Are the champion masters athletes mentally tougher? Insights from younger athletes.

The IntroductionMental toughness - ultra

I’ve long been fascinated why some people always appear to do well in big events and others who train the same or even harder and smarter don’t seem to be able to put it together when it counts – on the day! Sure genetics, physical fitness and correct decision making are factors, but what about mental toughness? This British research examined hardiness defined as the ability to manage the demands of situations. Hardiness combines the three attitudes of commitment (a sense of purpose and not giving up because of the investments you’ve made), control (being influential when faced with life challenges) and challenge (believing life is challenging and that change stimulates personal development).

The Research

Male and female volunteers (N = 1566) aged 21.7±4.2 years) were drawn from 16 sports and were competing at international, national, county/provincial, or club/ regional competitive levels. Each completed the 18-item Personal Views Survey III-R in their respective training camps. This survey gives an overall hardiness score as well as scores for commitment, control and challenge. A typical question was “Trying your best at what you do usually pays off in the end”.

The Results

Statistical analysis revealed that international competitors scored significantly higher in commitment and total hardiness compared to counterparts in each of the other three competitive levels. The elite also scored higher in control in comparison to national and club performers when adjustments were made for age, type of sport, category of sport, and gender.

The So What?

This research identifies that a psychological profile that includes high levels of hardiness appears to distinguish elite-level competitors from sub-elite performers. It supports previous research on younger athletes suggesting that the elite performer is mentally tougher, more focused, more optimistic and has better self-belief than those who don’t perform as well. I have no doubt the same characteristics differentiate winners in masters ranks, although this remains to be investigated.

 Sheard, M. and Golby, J. (2010). Personality hardiness differentiates elite-level sport performers. International Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 8(2): 160 – 169.

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