Mental toughness is a key to success during students’ middle school years. Students will make mistakes, but how they learn and deal with those mistakes will help determine their mental toughness. Research shows that mental toughness in education has been linked to a number of key factors such as academic engagement, valuing schoolwork, coping effectively, thriving on pressure, attainment, wellbeing, classroom behavior, attendance, and transition change.
This is one of the many reasons I highly encourage students to get involved with athletics. Mental toughness is about more than just being able to handle pressure; it’s about being able to stay focused and maintain your composure in the face of adversity. In sports and in life, things may not always go the way we want it to. Oftentimes in middle school kids fall into peer pressure situations or have negative self talk.
So, how do we develop mental toughness? You should know that mental toughness can be developed through training and practice. Just like physical conditioning, mental toughness requires dedication and effort. But the good news is that anyone can do it with the right approach.
Here are a few things you can do as a parent to help your student learn mental toughness:
- Encourage them to set goals
Goals give them something to strive for and keep them motivated. Make sure the goals are realistic and specific. Follow the SMART Goal setting technique.
- Teach them how to be resilient
Teach your child how to bounce back from setbacks by instilling a growth mindset. This is the belief that intelligence and ability can be developed through hard work and dedication. Encourage them to see failure as an opportunity to learn and grow. And praise their effort, not just their results.
- Help them be aware of their thoughts and feelings
Help your student refrain from negative talk and reframe it to more positive self talk. For example, I might say, “I haven’t reached my PR in my deadlift, yet.”
This is one of my favorite techniques. We discussed this with the girls volleyball team this past season. Visualizing is helpful in seeing the goods and the bads of all situations and preparing for those situations. It’s a good idea to not only visualize your shot at the hoop for example, but what happens if you make it? What happens if you miss it?
- Teach them relaxation techniques
Try out a few techniques, such as deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation.
- Encourage them to be positive
Encourage your child to focus on the positive. This could be things like their strengths and abilities or the progress they’ve made. Helping them to see the positives will give them a boost of confidence and help them to stay motivated.
- Help them find a role model
This could be a professional athlete they look up to or someone they know personally. Encourage them to watch how their role model deals with tough situations and learn from their example.
Mental toughness won’t happen overnight. It’s a skill that students, and possibly adults, need to continue to work on. If you’re wondering if your student needs to work on their mental toughness, you can ask yourself these questions:
- Is your child easily peer pressured?
- Do they give up when faced with challenges?
- Do they frequently engage in negative self talk? Do they have difficulty controlling emotions?
- Does your student struggle to stay committed?
Mental toughness is important for all students and student athletes. If you notice your student is struggling with this, try some of the above suggestions. Mrs. Fredricks is also available to meet with students to work through this and help develop the mental toughness skills.
By Casey Baldwin
Middle School Assistant Principal and Athletic Director