How Physical Training Develops Mental Toughness...


Less Physical Discomfort…First, fit players tend to experience less physical discomfort than unfit players in the same match circumstance. Therefore, fit players are better placed to focus their energy and attention on helpful processes that increase the chance of success, whereas unfit players are more likely to start taking actions based on their experience of physical pain. 

But there are also other reasons for the link between physical fitness and mental fitness that have to do with how our brains operate.

Stronger Bodies, Stronger Brains…

It turns out that physical pain and emotional pain are housed in the same brain area.

So what this means is that when players evoke physical discomfort through physical training they are literally making their brain stronger in coping with physical pain.

And because this part of the brain is also largely responsible for coping with emotional pain, physical training makes players fitter at coping with emotional discomforts at the same time.

So for example, it’s been shown that as people improve their ability to hold their hand in ice-cold water, they also improve their ability to cope with everyday emotional challenges.

And when we think of how this relates to tennis, because emotional difficulties like nerves, frustration, and the pain of losing are realities of playing the game, the better that players can handle emotional discomfort, the better they will compete.

So, in this way fitness trainers are literally psychologists, using physical training to rewire players’ brains to better respond to the emotional challenges of practice and competition.

Additional Benefits…

And here is another step that can lead to even more benefits.

When doing fitness training such as running, we can aim to focus on the physical discomfort as it arises and builds in our body.

We might also notice the urge to slow down or the thoughts telling us to reduce the discomfort without automatically responding.

I sometimes explain this as like observing the physical sensations with interest like a detective would investigate a crime scene without tampering the evidence.

So when we push ourselves to develop physical fitness, be sure to realize that we are also developing mental toughness as well!

To give you the idea, Mentally Tough Tennis consultant Pat Flynn made a short video showing you how we can use physical fitness training to powerfully develop mental toughness at the same time (this vid includes a special guest appearance by his daughter Lucy :-)... You can see it above...