When people talk about being tough, they tend to think about gritting their teeth, sucking it up, pushing through the pain and displaying to themselves and those looking on that they go hard all the time. They do not rest or take it easy; surely this is the result of a strong mind that allows them to push through the pain.
From my viewpoint, this couldn’t be further from the truth, nor is it what makes someone mentally tough. The aforementioned attributes can actually define someone with a weak mind and a lack of confidence. Therefore, they constantly push beyond what is necessary in order to prove to themselves they have what it takes.
Those reading this article likely do not need to be pushed through a session or asked to go hard (though few athletes understand a truly hard effort—but that is another article!)
On the flip side, athletes that are cool and calm, backing up training week after week, never looking to test themselves, are the tougher athletes; hitting the prescribed session no matter how “slow” or “easy” it may be. That is what makes them tough—they cannot even be broken down by their own ego.
Everyone has seen this type of athlete and knows what I am talking about: extremely calm, knows when to rest, rarely injured, and typically shows up on race day ready to go fast. What are some examples of a tough athlete?
The guy who won’t blast himself on day one of a training camp to keep up with the A group; instead he focuses on what is best for him, not his ego. That is toughness.
The girl who looks ahead 3 years, not 3 months, and trains today to back up the effort tomorrow. She isn’t concerned about a race in 3 or 4 months, but in 3 or 4 years. That is serious toughness.
These athletes are committed to a plan, and most others should just get out of their way. They trust the person guiding them, whether a coach or themselves.
Anyone can be the public perception of tough—that is easy, therefore it is not toughness. But can you starve your ego and believe in a plan or system that rewards those with a long-term approach? Can you perform only when it matters, or must you prove to yourself everyday you have what it takes?
Can you be tough, or are you a slave to a weak mind?