Why Coaches Must Focus More on Mental Endurance
In an athletic context, mental endurance entails having unshakable self-belief, resilience, consistency, perseverance, and control under pressure. Besides its role in maintaining focus and pushing through tough training, mental endurance is necessary for making the right decisions at crucial times during a competition, particularly in high-stress situations.
Why Mental Endurance is Crucial
In 2019, football data scientist Jan Van Haaren and his team studied the mental endurance of two professional football players, Neymar and Christiano Ronaldo. Their results showed that Neymar is one of the world's best players when pressure is low. However, when stress is high, Neymar’s performance drops. Notably, Neymar's physical performance improves under pressure, but what leads to his overall performance decline is that he makes much poorer decisions in a high-stakes environment.
On the contrary, Ronaldo seems oblivious to pressure - he consistently performs at his best. In other words, rather than just physical endurance, Ronaldo exemplifies what an athlete who has enough mental endurance can do.
Whether an athlete turns out to be a clutch performer or a choke artist depends on their level of mental endurance. Hence, while focusing on physical endurance training builds good athletes, placing more focus on mental endurance training helps produce world-class performers.
Ways to Train Mental Endurance
Research has shown that mental endurance is innate, but it can also be cultivated. Athletes who are not born with it can develop it. World-class professional footballers, basketball players, and Olympians train their mental toughness every day. Below are the three most effective ways someone can train their mental endurance.
Athletes set many goals, some physical, some technical. While meeting these goals improves their physical abilities, it also improves their mental endurance. In addition, it elevates their confidence in things they can control. They know they have improved and maximized their skills. They might not contain the opponent, but they have accounted for their own abilities in a measurable, quantifiable way.
The best training systems combine measurable, physical goals with confidence-building. They simulate chaotic, high-pressure environments but provide precise metrics on performance and improvement. For example, reaction training lights, such as FITLIGHT®, allow users to set performance benchmarks and surpass them, giving them the ultimate combination of physical improvement and mental endurance.
High-performance athletes often spend time visualizing their game-time movements, even when they are at rest. Imagery builds their mind-body connection and, when done well, can stimulate the required neural pathways as effectively as physical training. When it’s game-time, athletes who practice imagery react automatically to stimuli, executing appropriate movements with no delay – fast, accurate decision-making under stress.
Training systems like FITLIGHT® allow athletes to build their mind-body connection. By integrating visual stimuli with a physical response, these systems encourage neural pathways to open, improving game-time movement patterns on the training ground. As a result, athletes can expect quicker reactions and physical decision-making when under stress.
Every athlete has a sweet spot. Some prefer to be pumped up to the point of mania. Others are as cold as ice. Whatever the personality, world-class performance athletes set their own thermostats. They listen to music, meditate, take deep breaths, scream like maniacs. They are in control of how pumped up they are for performance.
Research shows that frequently maximizing one’s state of arousal allows an athlete to gain control of themselves more easily. Over time, they become more effective at correcting their state of arousal. If they are not pumped up enough, they can mentally “turn on.” If they are too pumped up, they can calm down.
FITLIGHT® mimics the chaotic sensory inputs of game-time, immediately moving the athlete from rest to high-stress. This frequent manipulation of arousal trains athletes to control their “thermostats” at will, getting them in the perfect state of mind for a world-class performance.