Mental Toughness and it’s Origins?

Mental Toughness and it’s Origins

The concept of mental toughness is relatively new and has its origins in academic research and in sport.  The origins of mental toughness in sport were pioneered through the work of the American sports psychologist Dr. Jim Loehr of the Human Performance Institute who assisted many champion athletes including the grand slam tennis player Jim Courier as well as the US Olympic Track and Field team.  In his book The New Toughness Training for Sports, Loehr defined mental toughness as “the ability to consistently perform towards the upper range of your talent and skill regardless of competitive circumstances.”

Following on from his work, psychologists and sport psychologists have conducted further research into mental toughness and three in particular produced further definitions.

Jones, Hanton, and Connaughton of the United States interviewed elite athletes, elite-level coaches and sport psychologists to arrive at the following definition of mental toughness in 2009:

Having the natural or developed psychological edge that enables you to generally, cope better than your opponents with the many demands (competition, training, lifestyle) that sport places on a performer; specifically, be more consistent and better than your opponents in remaining determined, focused, confident, and in control under pressure.

Gucciardi, Gordon, and Dimmock in Australia in 2008 proposed a different definition and framework of mental toughness based primarily on their work with Australian footballers. 

Their definition is:

Mental toughness in Australian Football is a collection of values, attitudes, behaviors, and emotions that enable you to persevere and overcome any obstacle, adversity, or pressure experienced, but also to maintain concentration and motivation when things are going well to consistently achieve your goals.

Pre-dating these definitions and with a much broader scope beyond just sport was the work completed by Professor Peter Clough and Keith Earle in 2002 and continued by Clough and Doug Strycharzcyk, Managing Director of AQR, which combined existing psychological theory and applied sports psychology to bridge the gap between research and practice.  They believe that mental toughness is a generic concept and should not be limited to the sports domain.  Their definition of mental toughness was and remains:

The personality trait which determines in large part how people deal effectively with challenges stressors and pressure… irrespective of circumstances.

Their mental toughness model comprises four components, the 4C’s of Control, Commitment, Challenge and Confidence.

Mental Toughness Model

Under the AQR banner they have built tested and marketed the pre-eminent generic measure of mental toughness, the MTQ48 psychometric measure.  Its validity and reliability has been further assessed and validated by numerous independent researchers as well as the British Psychological Society.  Since the GFC in 2008 the MTQ48 has been more widely used in the education sector with both students and teaching staff, the health and community sectors and increasingly has practical applications in the occupational sector especially in areas of great organisational change and high stress.

At Looking Challenge in the Eye we agree and actively utilise Clough and Strycharzcyk definition of Mental Toughness with our partnership agreement with AQR.

To find out more about our work using the MTQ48, MTQPlus and MTQLite measure's in the fields of resilience, mental toughness and wellbeing feel free to get in touch today.

David Charlton, Mental Toughness Coach and HCPC Registered Sport & Exercise Psychologist

Email: [email protected]

Tel: +44 (0) 7734 697769



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