“Mental Toughness”

Read this statement that was made of a football coach ”There is a direct correlation between mental toughness and defending. You won’t find a mentally tough team who don’t defend well”. The question you need to ask yourself after reading this statement is if you think it makes sense, because if you think it does, you need to think again. Now, for those who don’t think this statement makes sense or for those who is intrigued to find out why it doesn’t make sense we will analyze this tweet in this blog post. I want to make clear that this analysis and what follows is only an example of a bigger and more general problem in the football world and not directed specifically at the author of this particular tweet.

Let’s start by taking a look at the first part of the statement ”There is a direct correlation between mental toughness and defending.” At first glance maybe you are thinking ”That makes sense” in which case you are mistaken. The only reason for this statement to be even close to making sense is the fact that tv-pundits all over the world use the same non-contextual words and statements to fill time on tv when they don’t know what to say. This means that you may have heard the statement many times, but as you know, that doesn’t make it true. In our analysis of this statement we first need to understand what ”mental toughness” is and what it could refer to in the context of football. In order to do that we need to split the two words and see if we can find out what they mean individually before putting them together.

What does ”mental” actually mean? We hear the word everywhere but there doesn’t seam to be all that many that can explain what it is. Without going into a deep philosophical analysis about the theory by Descartes of Body and Mind that was coined in the 17th century and how and why he was wrong, let’s summarize it quickly. In his theory of Body and Mind, Descartes said that the Mind, whatever that is, was something else than the body. However, when you ask people where this ”mind” thing is, they usually point to their head. That means that the ”mind” seams to be located roughly in the same place as your brain. So when people say that you have a ”mental” problem, that is a problem with this ”mind” thing of yours that is located in your head, probably in the area where your brain is. The funny thing is that when you have a really big ”mental” problem, for example depression (negative thinking), you get subscribed anti-depressants that help balance your hormonal levels which leads to less negative thinking and less depression. But that must mean that the ”mind” and this ”mental” problem is a body problem? How else could a correction in hormonal levels effect your thinking? We now know that the process of thinking takes place in this very complex thing called the brain and even though there is a lot that we don’t know about this body-part, we do know that it’s inside the body. So, in general when people use the non-contextual word ”mental”, they are talking about a body issue and actually mean to say ”thinking” in most cases. In other words, you do not have a ”mental” problem that is for example ”lack of confidence”, you have a thinking problem that is you thinking that you cannot execute the action.

Back to the statement where we now can exchange the non-contextual word ”mental” with the correct word thinking. The consequence is that the statement becomes ”thinking toughness”. Now, that doesn’t make much more sense than it did before. We have a second problem with a non-contextual word, namely ”toughness” and need to find out what this word means. From the Cambridge dictionary we can read that ”Toughness” is an American word that means ”the quality of being strong and determined”. Put that into the context of the statement and it would read ”Thinking being strong and determined”, but isn’t determination or, being determined a thinking process in itself? And what is strong in the context of football and defending?

If we zoom out and look at the complete first sentence in the statement ”There is a direct correlation between mental toughness and defending.” and insert the correct words it would look like this ”There is a direct correlation between thinking being strong and determined and defending”. Now, you could argue that the coach is correct about the correlation between thinking and defending. If you cannot think, you can hardly execute the team function of defending, or walk to the pitch, dress yourself or get out of bed for that matter. But when it comes specifically to thinking being strong and determined, does this really have a direct correlation to defending? Or would the correlation be higher if the players are thinking about executing defending actions instead of thinking that they are strong?

To summarize we’ll look at the whole statement again ”There is a direct correlation between mental toughness and defending. You won’t find a mentally tough team who don’t defend well”. As you might notice, in the second sentence the specification of the quality of defending (well) is added to the mix. It seams highly unlikely that teams where players are thinking being strong and determined instead of thinking execute defending actions would be defending very well. That raises the question of what kind of study or scientific research the coach has performed to come to the conclusion that there is a direct correlation between the two. No proof of the claim that there is a direct correlation is given which is hardly surprising since we now know that the statement in itself makes no sense. In short this statement is a collection of non-contextual and arbitrary words that are saying nothing.

Unfortunately these kinds of false statements that use non-contextual language and arbitrary words are common from football coaches all over the world. Mostly this is because of a lack of knowledge and poor coach education and should not be blamed on the coach who is seldom aware of his shortcomings. Perhaps by pointing out that these types of statements are false and makes no sense, we can help these coaches become aware of their shortcomings so that they get the opportunity to improve. Wake up your critical thinking before you retweet and share these kind of statements on social media that contain non-football words! Ask the coach what they really mean and why the statement is supposedly true. If they can’t answer in 140 characters or less, they probably don’t know what they are talking about…


4 thoughts on ““Mental Toughness”

  1. SSRIs block the reabsorption (reuptake) of serotonin in the brain, making more serotonin available. It does not induce higher serotonin production.


    1. Thank you for your comment Andre!

      Does that mean that you do not think that that process is labelled correctly by “balance your hormonal levels” and “correction in hormonal levels”? Or is it a satisfactory layman description of the process?


  2. Well, First at all the biggest problem in your thinking is that you really don´t understand philosophy. Metaphysical thinking operates outside of the world and you shouldn´t take Descartes thinking literally as you did. In his argumentation Descartes try to prove that your thinking is only evidence that you exist. I don´t think that Descartes was in real life so stupid that he taught that your mind and body are separate. From philosophical point of view that shows that you really don´t understand philosophy. It only show that you take something from somewhere to prove that you are right in your argumentation but as you say in your argumentation non-textual language and arbitrary thinking makes no sense.

    Second thing which you should think is feelings. In your writing you say that you should think to be strong and determined. I don´t think anybody can do that. When peoples are doing something in the same time they don´t think that be strong and determined. They only do something and strongness and determines are something which are inside and when somebody say that they don´t have mental toughness they are right. They probably can do things but what is wrong is that they aren´t mentally strong enough. In your thinking you forgot self-consciousness which have real correlation to thing called mental toughness.

    I think you should try to think again.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mike,

      Thank you for your comment!

      Metaphysics is a branch of philosophy exploring the fundamental nature of reality. The metaphysically given can not be true or false, it simply is. You regard metaphysics as something that is not reality, “outside of this world” and this leads to a problem that makes argumentation between us impossible.

      You base your argument on what you are guessing another person was thinking almost 400 years ago. Personally I don’t like to spend time guessing what others are thinking, especially not what dead people may have thought. My argument is based on his actions and the work he produced during his lifetime – reality.

      The second part of your comment shows that you did not actually read the post. What you do very nicely is to show us why you think I’m wrong. Your feelings where triggered for some reason which made you decide that “he must be wrong” and this assumption is your “argumentation”. This comment is based on your feelings being hurt (for whatever reason) and not on a rational argument.

      To summarize, your comment is a good example of my point in the article. When coaches take their feelings as the starting point, you end up with a lot of subjective coaching “I think…” instead of using the game (reality, objectivity) as the starting point.

      Thank you for making my point!

      Liked by 1 person

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