Open Mic: The Mental Toughness to Succeed

Nikil RamanathanCorrespondent IJune 21, 2008

There are so many great athletes in all of sports that sometimes, even for a sports buff like me, it is hard to keep track of all of them.

The best of them, however, have a determination, a work ethic, a focus that separates them from the pack.

Which sport requires the most mental toughness? It is tough to determine this, since all sports require their athletes to possess some kind of mental toughness in order to succeed.

I will now examine a number of sports and the athletes who are toughest mentally.


In order to succeed in football, you have to be incredibly strong mentally. Over the course of a 16-game season, for most everyday players, it can be very easy to be benched for poor play.

You must play at the top of your game at all times, and you must be ready to hear it from the media if you are a player with high expectations.

That being said, the position that must be tougher mentally is clearly quarterback. Quarterbacks are the leaders of teams, and they hold the responsibility of controlling the rest of the team.

Many times, right or not, the expectations rest on their shoulders and they must step up and deliver.

A great example of a mentally tough player is Tom Brady. He remains cool at all times, as we have seen countless times in the playoffs and down the stretch in the Super Bowl. He comes ready to play every Sunday, he isn’t afraid to take the blame for the team, and he handles the media exceptionally well.


In order to succeed in basketball, one must be strong mentally and physically. Yet, most solid players can muscle their way with the best of players.

What separates the great from the good is the focus possessed by the great. They stay calm in pressure situations and deliver when called upon. They also handle themselves well with the media and play hard until the buzzer sounds.

Additionally, they don’t worry about the crowd or what else is happening. They continue to shoot the ball, even if their shot isn’t falling, maintaining a high level of self-confidence.

A prime example of a mentally tough player is Tim Duncan. Unlike many of his fellow players, Duncan is selfless. He never expresses his emotions in a negative manner and is only concerned with himself and his team.

He has constantly been criticized for being a “boring” player, but he couldn't care less. He has great self-confidence, and despite my dislike of his game, I have tremendous respect for him.


Baseball, in my opinion, requires a bit less mental toughness than the other sports. In baseball, it seems there is less of chance of being pulled or being benched.

Also, after a bad at-bat, you have a couple of innings to regroup. After a bad pitching performance, you have a couple of days to regroup and fix things. You don’t have this same reflective period in other sports, meaning you must be more mentally tough to keep things together.

That being said, the best of the best are still mentally tough. Take, for example, Mariano Rivera. As a closer, his only goal is to get the three outs he’s expected to.

He couldn't care less if they are three strikeouts or three fly outs at the warning track. He knows that when he comes to the mound, he is being counted on to save a game and he cherishes this opportunity.

Rivera, as a closer, also must regroup after a tough outing. Blowing a win is a tough thing. Rivera is one of the best at regrouping and quickly forgetting the past, concentrating on the next game and cashing in on his next opportunity.


Tennis isn’t as popular as the sports listed above, but I recognize it as one of the best games. It is unique in that it is an individual’s game and thus relies on great mental toughness.

The best players need to be incredibly mentally fit. Many times, you won’t be on your game in an early round of a tournament, playing a player you are supposed to beat. You must persevere and find a way to win.

Thus, you must bring yourself together and battle to the end. You must change your game; craft it to your liking on that given day. You cannot lose focus at the hurdle in front of you, because you have no teammates to pick up the slack.

You cannot become rattled, because your play will reflect it. Few players, aside from John McEnroe, are able to use anger to help them on the court.

Tennis players have coaches not only to help tone their games, but to keep them mentally prepared for the next match.

Nobody in tennis is mentally tougher than Roger Federer. Playing without a coach at times in his career, he has shown that he can withstand the toughest of battles.

He is simply focused on winning every match and unlike other players, never shows his anger on the court. In matches where he falls behind, he remains calm and cool and works his way back into it.


Yes, I know what you are probably thinking. Golf? Anyone can hit a golf ball. There’s no mental part of the game. But that is a faulty assumption.

Golf requires an incredible amount of toughness. Like tennis, you are on your own, with the exception of your caddy. In golf, it is inevitable that you will have some good shots, some poor shots, and some really bad shots.

The best of the best recover from these bad ones with ease, forgetting about them as soon as they hit them and always thinking about the next shot.

But it is not easy, because a round of golf takes close to five hours. It can be grueling on a hot, humid, midsummer day. Couple that with a few errant tee shots, and anyone in his/her right mind would be fuming.

Yet, the greatest golfers must have great command over their actions. They must have great control of each shot. They must know when to raise their emotions and when to keep them at a low level.

Tiger Woods is the quintessential example of a mentally tough athlete. I have never seen anyone in all of sports who is so precise, so accurate and so focused every second.

His focus on every shot is astounding and he is able to ignore the cheers that surround him and the applause from a nearby hole.

He is somehow able to shield his mind from everything except the shot in front of him, whether it is a tee shot, a second shot from the deep rough, a third shot from the bunker or a long, uphill putt for par.

Yes, Woods is a phenomenal athlete and an incredible golfer. There is no question about that. But so much of his game is reflected in his no-nonsense demeanor. He knows what has to be done, and that is as much reason as to why he gets respect on tour as his number of PGA Tour victories.

So which sport truly requires the most mental toughness? Even after examining five sports, it is tough to say. The greats of every sport have tremendous concentration and focus, which translates to great mental toughness.

If I had to pick one, it would be golf. Why? Because you are alone on a golf course, facing 18 daunting holes in front of you with just a caddy and a bunch of clubs by your side.

The crowd is watching your every shot. One errant shot and your tournament chances could be ruined. Every shot requires precision and accuracy. Every player must be ready to take on this challenge.

There is no doubt that the mentally fit are the best athletes.

And there’s no question that if you stay mentally tough, you can accomplish extraordinary things.

If you don’t believe me, just ask Tiger Woods. Or better yet, just ask his competitors.


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