Why It’s So Tough To Coach Mental Toughness


I’m doing a lot of research lately on mental toughness while I put together a coaching program that I’ll be sharing soon.

And as I do my lit review I keep coming across articles and research that I’d love to share with folks that follow my blog.

There were two articles recently that really stuck with me and I would love to see how others agree or disagree with both the research and my interpretation of it.

First, is an article that just came out this month titled how coaches build mental toughness. The second is an article on research referenced in the first article. This research looked to define mental toughness in general by talking to coaches and athletes (and some parents).

What was so interesting about the first article was a finding that 82% of coaches rated mental toughness as the most important psychological attribute in determining athletic success but sadly only 9% believed they were successful in developing mental toughness in their athletes. And the athletes we’re talking about were high school aged athletes.

Let’s think about that for a minute. 82% believe that mental toughness is critical for a players success but only 9% feel they have the ability or experience or time to teach these toughness skills to their players. This may not be true for every sport, it might not even be true for hockey, but let’s face it, that’s a LOW percentage. Why is this?

Talking to coaching friends of mine and doing my own research, everyone I talk to shares a list of common reasons why it’s so difficult to coach mental toughness in their players.

These reasons are:

1 - as much as everyone talks about how important mental toughness is, it’s really under-appreciated until there is a problem

2 - there aren’t a lot of resources to learn this stuff (unless you really dig for it and even then it’s not hockey related)

3 - there are no systematic programs to use or follow (we’d all have to make our own systems and who has the time or experience to do that?)

4 - it’s not a priority for the league or organization overall and therefore there isn’t a lot of support to find a way to add this type of coaching

5 - there just isn’t enough time and money to include this kind of coaching for the team.

Hearing these reasons helps me understand why it’s so tough to teach mental toughness but at the same time, going back to the research finding that 82% feel mental toughness is critically important, how do you NOT figure out a way to incorporate it into your program?

I mean I’m sure it's not just me that is floored by these statistics but think about it. You have a skill that is critical to a player's continued success but you have no system to teach it!?!

Watching the National Junior tournament this past month you’re seeing players that are not only incredibly skilled on the ice but are mentally tough too. Where did THEY learn mental toughness? WHEN did they learn mental toughness? Were they just naturally mentally tough and that’s why they’re on the National Team OR were they taught mental toughness skills and strategies WHILE they were becoming the best juniors for their country?

We know the answer. The answer is they learned mental toughness skills as part of their advanced training and development being part of the National Team. But what about the rest of us?

This is where I would love to get your feedback

As I mentioned, I am in the process of developing a mental toughness coaching program and I would love to include feedback and insight from a broader range of players, coaches, and parents involved and experienced in hockey.

If you’re interested in sharing your insight, please CLICK HERE or the link below and fill out the quick questionnaire (only 6 questions and should only take you a few minutes to complete) and for your time and effort I’ll send you a free mental toughness workbook.

If you don’t have time to do the questionnaire please leave a comment below to share your thoughts and insight.

Thanks in advance for everyone who chimes in


Kevin L. Willis, PhD
Sport Psychologist
Level 5 USA Hockey Coach

Compete Level Toughness Focus Preparation