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By Staff | Sep 28, 2016

Most athletes start out early in life being told that physical conditioning is the most important aspect of their athletic career. The emphasis is placed on bulging muscles and brawn. While that is an important part of any athlete’s career, it certainly isn’t the only one.

Being mentally tough is equally as important, if not more. Most athletes go through life reacting with emotions and feelings rather than reasoning out the consequences of their actions or their best course for success or achievement. When something goes wrong around them, they make excuses and blame others.

Mental toughness gives athletes the edge to solve problems and get the most out of their ability. Nearly all leading athletes have mental toughness. It’s a skill you develop. It’s not a talent or some gift of nature because it has to be learned and developed.

Athletes gain a huge advantage once they develop mentally, however, developing that edge cannot happen without the right attitude. You can’t be mentally strong without making a serious and sincere effort to get a positive attitude. Negative thoughts are going to enter everyone’s mind. That’s where mental toughness plays a key role in positive thinking. All negative thoughts are pessimistic and result in negative feelings.

Great coaches have positive attitudes and mental toughness. They fight off a bad experience with positive thoughts such as “what can we do to get better, what caused us to lose, where did we go wrong and how can we fix it?” Accepting the blame instead of making excuses and blaming others is an example of someone with mental toughness. I see it all the time in many aspects of life. People fail because their not willing to except the fact they make mistakes and it always becomes someone else’s fault. It happens in everyday life and in the work place.

I like to think of examples of people who could have failed, but instead went onto become great athletes and coaches because they learned early in life that you have to work hard for what you get. Nothing comes easy; where you end up in life is a matter of the choices you make. The old saying goes like this: “winner never quits and the quitter never wins” it’s a very true quote. Another good one says, “when the going gets tough, the tough get going.”

I see a lot of mental toughness in our local people, from our teachers, administrators, business people, coaches, athletes, students, from our local police, prosecutors and many, many more. It is probably the hardest to develop mental toughness as a parent more than anything else. Most parents today want to make up excuses and refuse to except the truth when their children don’t play well or when they get involved with the wrong crowd or have substance abuse problems.

Don’t be naive it happens to us all! The mistake we often make is when we feed the problem, it sends a wrong message that everything is alright. Sports is the same way. If we can’t see the mistakes our own children make, then don’t blame others. Everyone must take responsibility for their own actions.

Over the years, West Virginia has been an excellent place to raise kids – and for the most part it continues that way. The state’s people have always been hard working folk who, for the most part, have good morals and raise their children to be the same. With the influx of illegal substances, it is becoming increasingly harder to keep that image.

I was just reading the an article the other day about a 33-mile stretch of road here in our state that produced four major college football coaches and 15 national football championships. Those coaches all came out of the W.Va. coalfields where life was not kind and if you were gonna make it, you had to be tough – a place where mining disasters and explosions claimed the lives of many family members and friends.

Who would ever think that with mental toughness, coaches like Michigan Coach Fielding Yost (six national titles), Southern Cal’s John Mckay (four titles), Alabama’s Nick Saban (four titles) and Florida State’s Jimbo Fisher (one title), would put WVa. on the major college football map. These men lived along that 33 mile stretch of Rt. 19 near Fairmont and Clarksburg, WVa. There have been many more here in this little state known only by the big time broadcasters as “Virginia” that have emerged from the deep trenches of poverty to lead their teams to major success.

I was a junior and senior at Paden City High School in 1968-69 when only the two top teams in the state made it to the championship football game. There was no playoff system where 16 teams made the playoffs. You were either ranked first or second to get in. Paden City played Monongah both years in the state title game. Nick Saban was the quarterback for Monongah and WVU great Kerry Marbery was its running back. Paden City had great players most of whom were mentally tough as well. Ex-Coaches like Hen Healey and Bob Burton taught that as part of the game.

I like to think of our own Bill Stewart, who used mental toughness to take a team at the last moment that lead them to a major college football bowl win after he gave a stirring speech that still yet makes the hair stand up on your arms. All that after replacing another WVa. native Rich Rodriguez, who departed to lead Michigan. How about all the ex-college and pro players like Jerry West, Hot Rod Hundley, Norm Wiley from Pine Grove and the great Sam Huff, players like Ron (Fritz) Williams, coaches like Follensbee’s Lou Holtz. The list goes on and on.

Many times in my life I have seen people with much more physical ability beaten by a mentally tough person just by getting into their head. It’s a mindset that says I can when everyone else says you can’t. After months and years of physical conditioning much is lost if mental toughness is not taught and learned.

Positive thinking is – I am just as good as the next guy and I will not walk off the field or out of the gym satisfied with a loss. I will bounce back and next week will be different. I don’t care how big or how tough the opponent is. I’m just as tough and just as good, I won’t let him get the best of me. We have to develop that type of mindset to compete in an ever increasing competitive world. In local sports and in life.

We have some mentally tough kids here locally. I know because I watch them and talk to them. We also have some that lack that advantage; they have never learned it. I know it’s often taught because I hear it in the games and at practice. It’s a decision to practice it, to use it and you will become a better person and athlete. Make up you mind now to be a winner in life!