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Mental Toughness Unmasked

Updated: May 23, 2019

Basketball is Psychology XXI


We love the basketball players who will persevere through anything because of their relentless desire to win. They get through injuries, losses, and tough workouts without ever showing signs of weakness. This mental toughness is championed in the sport of basketball, and rightfully so. However, this seems like a complete contradiction to mental health, where we want athletes to be vulnerable and talk about their feelings and weaknesses.

We want basketball players to push beyond their perceived limits, without pushing to an unhealthy place.

We want mental toughness and mental health.

The only problem is they seem completely contradictory. Vulnerability is viewed as a weakness and mental toughness is worn as a mask.

As a culture, we’ve skewed the perception of mental toughness.

Mental toughness is universally acknowledged as an essential ingredient for any successful team, but what’s more important is mental health. Mental health and mental toughness are not opposites, rather mental health and mental toughness must coexist, they are both strides in the right direction.

Prioritizing your mental health does not make you weak. It takes a great deal of toughness to get mentally healthy.

What Mental Toughness Is and Is Not

Mental toughness is not a denial of weaknesses.

Mental toughness is being honest about weaknesses, so they can be turned to strengths.

Think about it like this:

A player is being critiqued by a coach in film about an obvious mistake. Instead of admitting to the mistake, the player argues with the coach and tries to justify their mistake, even though it’s obviously wrong.

This is the opposite of mental toughness. A mentally tough player would humbly agree they made a mistake and be eager to learn how to fix it and get better.

Mentally tough players are aware of their weaknesses, they want to know about them so they can fix them. If they can’t finish going to the left side, they don’t pretend the weakness doesn’t exist, they work on it.

We wouldn’t want a player to deny their glaring weaknesses on the court because then they couldn’t improve in those areas, and it’s no different off the court.

Just like if a player needed to get in the weight room to work on their leg strength, sometimes there are mental things that need to be worked on, and that’s okay. Your mental health is what’s most important.

Mental toughness is not a false sense of confidence.

Mental toughness is understanding who you are and knowing what you’re capable of. This gives you confidence, but can only come from educating yourself on mental health and working on your own mental health.

When you do this, you can trust yourself to handle whatever circumstances are thrown at you, which is the true meaning of mental toughness.

Solving The Contradiction

The solution is to champion mental health.

Everyone champions mental toughness, but championing mental toughness without championing mental health is like praising someone who is playing through an injury but not praising the player who lifted weights, ate healthy, hydrated, and stretched every day for years to prevent injuries.

Those who are mentally healthy, are mentally tough as a byproduct.

Getting mentally healthy is a lengthy and difficult process, but it’s the prerequisite for true mental toughness.

How do you get mentally healthy?

The indicator of your mental health comes from the conversation you are having with yourself at all times. This conversation should be positive, not the “rah-rah” positive, but a voice of gratitude that believes and hopes for the best and looks for the good in every circumstance.

Make mental health the priority and mental toughness will form.


Written by Julie Fournier


Founder & CEO of Basketball is Psychology

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