MERGE with Mental Toughness


How do you define mental toughness? I define it as a set of 5 skills.

M: Mindfulness. Be aware of the present. Two things out of our control: the past and the future. One thing in our control: the present. What do you notice about your breath right now? What do you observe with your five senses? When you criticize yourself for a past mistake or worry about a future outcome, notice what’s happening right now. Focus on the process.

E: Energy. Do you like to be chilled out? Pumped up? Really relaxed or really intense? How’d you feel before your best performance? Know your ideal energy zone, and learn how to get yourself there through breathing, self-talk, focus, and imagery skills.

R: Resilience. How quickly do you bounce back from mistakes? If you linger on mistakes, take a deep breath and tell yourself, “Everybody makes mistakes. Focus on the next play.” Imagine locking the mistake in a closet, or watching it float away in a swift river. Learn how to be more compassionate of yourself by noticing the facts.

G: Grit. Do you have deep determination and drive? Do you have something to prove? Or do you give up easily? Grit is passion and motivation to persevere no matter what challenge you face. Why do you play your sport? Tap into your passion, and set a goal for each practice. There will be days you don’t want to be there…uncover your motivation and get something out of each practice. Feed off inspiration from teammates and coaches.

E: Emotions. That tightness in your chest—what emotion is that? Can you recognize and express emotions? How well do you manage your emotions? Cope effectively with your feelings to become mentally tough. Learn how to experience an emotion without reacting to the emotion. Feeling nervous doesn’t mean you’ll blow it—it just means your body is preparing to rise to the challenge. Notice frustration and write about it or tell a friend.

Learn these skills with sport psychologists Dr. Jen Carter ( or Dr. Steve Graef ( at OSU Sports Medicine. Call 614-293-3600 to schedule.

Emotional Reactions to Injury

Emotional Reactions to Injury

“I’ll be back!”

No doubt about it, injuries suck. Injuries are hard enough to manage without the additional suffering of judging your emotions. Here are some normal reactions:

I’M SAD. Feelings of sadness and hopelessness are common with injuries. The losses from injury feel like grief. About 20% of athletes with severe injuries develop clinical depression, a syndrome that’s different from the normal ups and downs of life. Depression involves changes in sleep and appetite, blue mood, lack of interest in formerly pleasurable activities, low energy, poor concentration, and/or suicidal thoughts.

I’M WORRIED / STRESSED. “Will I ever get better?” “What if I don’t perform well when I return?” “Do my teammates think I’m faking?” Injured athletes often ruminate over fears like these. Anxiety, depression, and decreased exercise may lead to difficulty sleeping.

I’M ANGRY. Feelings of anger and frustration are totally normal. Your amazing body is hurt. You may snap at your trainer or want to throw your crutches into the wall.

I’M ISOLATED. Athletes often feel lonely and left out when injured. Your coaches may focus more on healthy athletes, and you might miss out on impromptu social plans made at practice. You may withdraw from others if you’re feeling down.

I’M STRONG. Not all emotional reactions to injury are negative, especially as athletes heal. Injuries might provide needed rest for over-trained athletes. It’s a time to receive help from others, and grow closer to them. When you’ve recovered from injury, you often appreciate your sport even more, knowing what it’s like to miss it. You may feel proud of overcoming a tough injury.


So how can you cope with these feelings?

Talk to someone. Talk to your family, coaches, teammates, dietitian, psychologist, and/or academic advisor. Check out your worries. (For example, it’s rare for teammates to believe that you’re faking your injury, especially if you’re typically a hard worker.) Express anger assertively (“I’m frustrated!”) instead of acting out aggressively, which will cause regret.

Improve your mental game. Injuries are a great time to improve mental skills like energy management, self-talk, goal-setting, imagery, focus, and team-building. You can schedule with Jen Carter, PhD or Steve Graef, PhD by calling (614)293-3600.

Hone your nutrition. Meet with a sports dietitian for a meal plan that heals your injury quickly!

Set goals. Approach recovery like training, setting small goals and noticing your progress. Write in a journal.

Reach out for support. It’s hard for athletes to ask for help, but it’s an important skill. Ask questions to your trainer and physician. Update your team about your progress in recovery. Invite a friend to go out.

Hopefully soon you’ll return to playing the sport you love.