So what benefits can good mental conditioning programs provide athletes and coaches? These programs breed success, but are shunned by some because the commitment needed, expectations and the physical, emotional, and mental intensity can be overwhelming. Many players self-select themselves out, quickly.
Mental conditioning and mental toughness programs, more than anything else, are meant to improve performance across the entire performance spectrum by using powerful physical challenges that can quickly break a player down, both mentally and physically. Gus Hoefling, mentioned earlier, had the best mental toughness program I ever witnessed or incorporated. This program had several levels and most players found level one difficult enough. It is my opinion that mental toughness programs get the best results when starting with flexibility first, then working on strength, then progressing to speed. It takes about six weeks to become proficient at level one. It takes renewed commitment and months to master a second level.
The secret weapon of a mental toughness program is focus. When focus is improved, performance is improved and energy is added to practices. Martial arts workouts help to perfect focus. Imagine a team with two or even three sets of ankle and wrist weights working out with high level marshall art challenges, staring at lines on a wall, not being allowed to look at the ground or around, not being allowed to whine or moan, not being allowed to loose balance, and having the toughest team selected players in the front demanding excellence. Imagine getting to the point of excellence where the entire team has to start at the beginning of the workout after a screwup.
Players with great mental conditioning programs have a quiet arrogance, paired with unshakable confidence. They are taught to pay no attention whatsoever to the other team, outside of what is needed to execute and win. Players from programs like this have tremendous poise and are frequently labeled a machine. They visualize their own success and the team’s success they have worked hard for. Players trained in such programs are fierce in their will to win, despise losing and are willing to pay the price. Players from programs like this show an improvement curve that is consistent and positive, not a plateau, or an up and down slope, or worst of all, a regression. Teams prepared in mental toughness believe in axioms that reinforce the other 90%. One axiom is; there is no easy way and another is; if you are with the program you will get better, if you are not you will soon leave the program. Players prepared with such mental toughness strategies do their best when under fire. They do not accept limited expectations authored by others, or goals that are a dime a dozen. For example, we want to finish .500 in the Big Ten.
What would Yogi say? Maybe this: To make it work you have to have work, and nothing beats winning.