How to Improve Mental Toughness When Things Don’t Go as Planned?

Hey, it’s Dr. Patrick Cohn here, and in this video, I’m going to address an important issue that many athletes face: losing focus and confidence when things don’t go according to plan. I recently received a question from Tim, a concerned MMA fighter’s dad, who shared that his son panics in the heat of the moment and struggles to maintain his mental toughness. Tim understands the fast-paced nature of the sport and how crucial it is for his son to stay focused and confident. So, in this video, I’ll provide some expert advice on how your son can anticipate and cope with unexpected situations, as well as stabilize his confidence to maintain mental toughness when things don’t go as planned. Stay tuned and let’s dive into this topic!

When it comes to sports, we all want the best possible outcome and have a game plan in mind. But what happens when life throws us a curveball? It’s crucial for athletes, like your son, to understand that not everything will go according to plan. That’s why we emphasize the concept of anticipating and coping in mental coaching. By training your son to anticipate various scenarios and develop coping responses, he can adjust and compensate when things don’t go as expected. It’s not about negative thinking, but rather good planning based on past experiences and thinking ahead about potential challenges. Additionally, it’s essential for your son to stabilize his confidence. True confidence is stable and lasting, and he needs to approach competitions with a full tank of proactive confidence. This way, he can stay on the confidence train even when faced with setbacks, enabling him to maintain mental toughness and perform at his best. So let’s help your son improve his mental toughness and excel in his MMA career. Subscribe to my YouTube channel for more videos on this topic and check out the series on mental toughness in sports. Good luck, and thanks for watching!

How to Improve Mental Toughness When Things Dont Go as Planned?

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Understanding the Importance of Mental Toughness

Definition of mental toughness

Mental toughness refers to an athlete’s ability to stay focused, confident, and resilient, even in the face of challenges, setbacks, and unexpected situations. It is the capacity to remain composed and perform at a high level under pressure, regardless of external circumstances.

Why mental toughness is important in sports

Mental toughness plays a crucial role in sports performance and success. While physical skills and talent are essential, it is often the mental aspect of the game that sets athletes apart. Here are a few reasons why mental toughness is important in sports:

  1. Improved performance: When athletes are mentally tough, they are better able to maintain focus, execute their game plans, and perform at their best. They are less likely to be affected by distractions, pressure, or mistakes, allowing them to stay in control and reach their full potential.

  2. Better handling of adversity: Sports can present unexpected challenges, such as injuries, difficult opponents, or unfavorable conditions. Mental toughness helps athletes navigate these situations with resilience, adapting and making the most out of them instead of being overwhelmed or discouraged.

  3. Enhanced confidence: Mental toughness helps athletes develop and maintain a strong belief in their abilities, even when facing setbacks or failures. This confidence is essential for taking risks, pushing boundaries, and striving for excellence.

  4. Improved decision-making: When under pressure, athletes with mental toughness are more likely to make rational decisions based on their training and experience rather than allowing their emotions to dictate their choices. This can lead to better game management and strategic moves.

Effects of lack of mental toughness

A lack of mental toughness can have detrimental effects on an athlete’s performance and well-being. Without the mental fortitude to handle pressure and setbacks, athletes may experience:

  1. Decreased performance: Athletes who are mentally fragile may struggle to maintain focus, leading to errors, poor decision-making, and subpar performance.

  2. Loss of confidence: When athletes lack mental toughness, they may easily lose confidence in their abilities, doubting themselves and becoming more prone to making mistakes or giving up.

  3. Inability to handle pressure: Athletes without mental toughness may crumble under pressure, getting overwhelmed by the expectations and intensity of competitive situations.

  4. Increased stress and anxiety: Without the ability to manage their emotions and stay mentally resilient, athletes may experience heightened stress, anxiety, and negative self-talk, which can interfere with their performance and overall well-being.

Developing mental toughness is essential for athletes who want to excel in their sports. By understanding the concept and its significance, athletes can begin to implement strategies to enhance their mental resilience and strength.

Anticipating and Coping with Unexpected Situations

The concept of anticipate and cope

The concept of “anticipate and cope” refers to the ability to prepare for and manage unexpected situations in sports. It involves being proactive in considering various scenarios and developing coping mechanisms to handle them effectively.

Planning for different scenarios

To anticipate and cope, athletes should consider possible scenarios that may deviate from their initial plan. By envisioning various situations, such as facing a tough opponent or experiencing equipment malfunctions, athletes can create contingency strategies that empower them to handle these challenges effectively.

Learning from past experiences

Past experiences can provide valuable insights and lessons for athletes. By reflecting on previous instances where things did not go as planned, athletes can identify patterns, areas for improvement, and strategies that worked in similar situations. Learning from past experiences builds resilience and equips athletes with the tools to navigate unexpected circumstances.

Thinking ahead and preparing for potential challenges

Mental toughness involves thinking critically and proactively. Athletes should consider potential challenges they may encounter during competitions and make a plan to address them. This can involve strategizing ways to stay focused, regain confidence, or adapt their game plan in real-time.

Preparing for unexpected situations not only helps athletes maintain composure and confidence but also enhances their problem-solving skills and adaptability.

Stabilizing Confidence

Importance of stable and lasting confidence

Confidence is a crucial component of mental toughness. Athletes need to maintain a stable and lasting belief in their abilities, even when faced with adversity or unexpected circumstances. Stable confidence allows athletes to trust their training, make decisions with conviction, and perform to the best of their abilities.

Building proactive confidence

Proactive confidence is essential for mental toughness. Athletes should focus on building their confidence through deliberate practice, mental rehearsal, and self-affirmations. By consistently reinforcing positive beliefs about their abilities and achievements, athletes can strengthen their confidence and reduce the impact of external factors.

Not allowing confidence to be easily shaken

Mentally tough athletes do not let their confidence waver easily. They understand that setbacks, mistakes, or unexpected situations are part of the game and do not define their abilities. Instead of dwelling on failures, mentally tough athletes use them as learning opportunities and bounce back with even more determination and resilience.

Staying on the confidence train even when things go wrong

When faced with unexpected situations, mentally tough athletes consciously choose to stay on the confidence train. Rather than allowing setbacks or mistakes to shake their confidence, they view them as temporary roadblocks and continue to believe in their abilities. By maintaining their confidence, athletes can better adapt, make necessary adjustments, and continue pursuing their goals.

Developing a resilient mindset is key to stabilizing confidence, as it allows athletes to bounce back from setbacks and stay focused on their long-term goals.

Developing Resilience

Understanding resilience in sports

Resilience in sports refers to an athlete’s ability to bounce back from setbacks, stay mentally strong, and maintain focus and motivation. It involves adapting to challenges, setbacks, and unexpected situations, learning from experiences, and remaining committed to their goals.

Building mental resilience through practice

Mental resilience, like physical skills, can be developed through practice. Athletes can engage in specific mental resilience exercises, such as visualization, positive self-talk, or mindfulness, to cultivate a resilient mindset. By incorporating these practices into their training routine, athletes can enhance their ability to navigate adversity and maintain peak performance.

Developing a positive attitude

A positive attitude is a crucial component of mental toughness and resilience. Athletes should focus on developing an optimistic and growth-oriented mindset, believing that challenges present opportunities for growth and improvement. Viewing setbacks as learning experiences rather than failures allows athletes to bounce back quickly and stay motivated.

Focusing on the process rather than the outcome

Mentally tough athletes understand that focusing solely on the outcome can increase pressure and limit performance. Instead, they prioritize the process, setting specific goals, and working towards them with dedication and diligence. By focusing on their efforts, progress, and personal growth, athletes can maintain resilience even when faced with unexpected situations or unfavorable outcomes.

Developing resilience requires dedication, self-reflection, and the willingness to embrace challenges rather than avoid them. With practice and a positive mindset, athletes can strengthen their mental resilience and approach high-pressure situations with confidence.

Managing Emotions

Recognizing and acknowledging emotions

Emotions are a natural part of sports and can influence an athlete’s performance if not managed effectively. Mentally tough athletes understand the importance of recognizing and acknowledging their emotions as they arise. By being aware of their feelings, athletes can better understand how emotions affect their thoughts, behaviors, and performance.

Implementing effective emotion regulation strategies

Emotion regulation is the process of managing and controlling one’s emotions to maintain focus and performance. Mentally tough athletes utilize various strategies to regulate their emotions effectively, such as deep breathing, positive self-talk, or visualization. These techniques help athletes stay composed, reduce anxiety, and remain focused on the task at hand.

Using mindfulness techniques to stay present

Mindfulness involves being fully present in the current moment without judgment. By practicing mindfulness techniques, athletes can enhance their ability to stay focused and calm, especially during high-pressure situations. Techniques such as meditation, body scans, or sensory awareness exercises can help athletes remain present and in control of their emotions.

Seeking support from coaches or sports psychologists

Managing emotions can be challenging, and athletes do not have to do it alone. Seeking support from coaches or sports psychologists can provide athletes with valuable strategies and techniques to regulate their emotions effectively. These professionals can also help athletes develop personalized coping mechanisms tailored to their specific needs and circumstances.

By managing their emotions, athletes can maintain mental clarity, make better decisions, and perform at their best, regardless of external pressures or unexpected situations.

Maintaining Focus and Concentration

Importance of focus in high-pressure situations

Focus is a critical component of mental toughness and performance excellence in sports. Athletes must maintain unwavering attention on their goals, strategies, and game plans, even when faced with distractions or unexpected circumstances. Laser-sharp focus allows athletes to execute their skills with precision and make quick, informed decisions.

Practicing concentration techniques

Concentration techniques can help athletes improve their ability to stay focused and maintain attention on the task at hand. Techniques such as visualization, self-talk, or cue words can help athletes block out distractions, improve their concentration, and enter a state of flow where their performance feels effortless and automatic.

Creating a pre-performance routine

A pre-performance routine is a series of actions and rituals that athletes engage in to prepare themselves mentally and physically for their performance. By establishing a routine, athletes can enter a focused and concentrated state, shutting out distractions and optimizing their readiness for competition.

Utilizing visualizations and imagery

Visualization is a powerful tool that mentally tough athletes use to enhance their focus and concentration. By vividly imagining themselves executing their skills successfully, athletes can create mental blueprints that guide their actions during competition. Imagery can help athletes stay present, confident, and fully engaged in the task at hand.

Maintaining focus and concentration requires deliberate practice and the development of mental skills. By incorporating concentration techniques, establishing pre-performance routines, and utilizing visualizations, athletes can optimize their ability to perform at a high level, even in challenging situations.

Adopting a Growth Mindset

Understanding the concept of a growth mindset

A growth mindset refers to an individual’s belief that abilities and skills can be developed and improved through dedication, effort, and perseverance. Athletes with a growth mindset embrace challenges, persist in the face of setbacks, and see failures as opportunities for learning and growth.

Embracing challenges as opportunities for growth

Mentally tough athletes view challenges as stepping stones toward improvement and excellence. Instead of shying away from difficult situations or fearing failure, they embrace these challenges as opportunities to stretch their limits, learn new skills, and develop resilience. Embracing challenges fosters a hunger for growth and a willingness to push beyond comfort zones.

Viewing setbacks as learning experiences

Setbacks and failures are part of the athletic journey. Mentally tough athletes do not view setbacks as permanent or indicative of their abilities; instead, they see them as valuable learning experiences. By analyzing setbacks, identifying areas for improvement, and adjusting their approach, athletes can bounce back stronger and more determined than ever.

Believing in the power of effort and perseverance

Mentally tough athletes believe that effort and perseverance, rather than sheer talent alone, are the keys to success. They understand that consistent dedication and hard work lead to progress and improvement over time. By trusting in their ability to learn and grow, athletes can stay motivated, overcome obstacles, and achieve their goals.

Adopting a growth mindset is a transformative process that requires self-awareness, self-reflection, and a conscious effort to reframe one’s beliefs about success and failure. By cultivating a growth mindset, athletes can unlock their full potential and approach every challenge with the determination to learn and grow.

Setting Realistic Expectations

The dangers of unrealistic expectations

Unrealistic expectations can hinder an athlete’s mental toughness and performance. When expectations are set too high or are disconnected from reality, athletes may feel constant pressure, experience self-doubt, and become discouraged when they do not meet their lofty goals. Unrealistic expectations can also lead to burnout and a decline in motivation.

Setting achievable goals

Setting achievable goals is essential for maintaining mental toughness. By breaking down larger goals into smaller, manageable steps, athletes can experience a sense of progress and maintain motivation. Achievable goals provide a clear roadmap and contribute to a growth mindset, as athletes continuously progress and build confidence.

Breaking down goals into manageable steps

Breaking down goals into concrete, actionable steps helps athletes stay focused and motivated. By identifying specific tasks and milestones, athletes can track their progress and celebrate small victories along the way. This approach allows athletes to remain mentally resilient and confident, even in the face of unexpected challenges.

Celebrating small victories along the way

Recognizing and celebrating small victories is crucial for maintaining motivation and mental toughness. Athletes should take the time to acknowledge their progress, no matter how incremental. Celebrating achievements, no matter how small, helps athletes maintain a positive mindset and stay motivated to keep pushing forward.

Setting realistic expectations is about finding balance and being honest with oneself. By setting achievable goals, breaking them down into manageable steps, and celebrating progress, athletes can maintain mental toughness while continually pursuing growth and success.

Developing a Support System

Importance of a support system in sports

A strong support system is vital for an athlete’s mental toughness and overall well-being. Surrounding oneself with positive and supportive individuals provides a sense of belonging, encouragement, and motivation. A support system can consist of coaches, teammates, friends, family, mentors, or sports psychologists.

Surrounding yourself with positive and supportive individuals

Athletes should seek out and surround themselves with individuals who believe in their abilities and offer unwavering support. Positive and supportive individuals can provide encouragement, constructive feedback, and a safe space to discuss challenges and setbacks. The presence of such individuals fosters mental toughness and resilience.

Seeking guidance from mentors or experienced athletes

Mentors and experienced athletes can offer valuable guidance and perspective to those looking to develop their mental toughness. These individuals have likely faced similar challenges and can provide advice, strategies, and insights gained from their own experiences. Mentors can serve as role models, offering guidance and helping athletes navigate the ups and downs of their athletic journey.

Utilizing team support and camaraderie

Team support and camaraderie can significantly contribute to an athlete’s mental toughness. Being part of a team provides a sense of belonging, accountability, and shared experiences. Athletes can lean on their teammates for support, motivation, and feedback, fostering mental resilience and unity.

Developing a support system is a collaborative effort that requires actively seeking out positive relationships and surrounding oneself with individuals who uplift and encourage. By cultivating a strong support system, athletes can strengthen their mental toughness and face challenges with confidence.


In conclusion, developing mental toughness is crucial for athletes aiming to reach their full potential and excel in their sports. By understanding the importance of mental toughness, athletes can implement various strategies to improve their mental resilience, stability, and focus.

Key strategies for improving mental toughness include anticipating and coping with unexpected situations, stabilizing confidence, developing resilience, managing emotions, maintaining focus and concentration, adopting a growth mindset, setting realistic expectations, and developing a support system. Each of these components contributes to an athlete’s ability to handle pressure, setbacks, and challenges, ultimately enhancing their performance and well-being.

Consistent practice and dedication are essential for building mental toughness. Athletes should approach mental training with the same level of commitment and discipline as they do their physical training. Embracing challenges and setbacks as opportunities for growth, utilizing professional help when needed, and maintaining a positive mindset are crucial for developing mental toughness.

By incorporating these strategies into their training and competition routines, athletes can cultivate mental toughness, optimize their performances, and excel in their sports. Mental toughness is a lifelong journey that requires ongoing self-reflection, practice, and a commitment to personal growth. With dedication and a resilient mindset, athletes can unlock their full potential and achieve greatness.

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