Struggling Produces Champions

Tennis Mental Toughness Tips

Struggling is one of the most important skills to success. Yes, I did mention that struggling is a skill. This skill, also known as, delaying gratification has been proven to produce more success than any other skill athletically, academically, and in life. There are even studies in developmental psychology that show the significant benefits that struggling has on becoming more successful in life.

In the late 60's and early 70's researcher Walter Mitchell conducted a test (which some would consider cruel) of methodically tormenting 4 year olds. Over 500 children participated in the study. The study was called "The Marshmallow Test". Children were offered a treat and were told that the researcher stepped away and if they could wait just 15 minutes until the researcher returned to eat the treat that the child would receive a second treat. Basically, it was eat one treat now or wait and eat 2 treats later. When left alone, children tried all kinds of tactics to avoid eating the treat such as looking away, only smelling it, and even caressing it! The average kid was able to struggle only 3 minutes before eating the treat. Also, only 3 out of 10 children were able to hold out for the full 15 minutes. What they later discovered was nothing short of astonishing.

The children who were able to delay gratification until the researcher returned did far better in school, were less likely to struggle with weight and addiction, and went on to have very successful careers. This test and others proved that struggling is a huge indicator of future success! 

When struggling in sports the most successful athletes view struggling as a positive.

Olympian swimmer Micheal Phelps stated once that he never looked at making sacrifices (or struggling) in a bad way. He always saw struggling as another step in pursuit to reaching his overall goals.

Former #1 golfer in the world, Jason Day, stated that he gained confidence from hardwork because "I knew I could out work everyone else and I took pride in that".

Roger Federer made a comment that struggling isn't only a part of reaching success but it's an even more important part of maintaining it. Roger recently said,

  • "I always questioned myself in the best of times even when I was world number 1 for many many weeks and months in a row. At certain times during the year I’ve said, what can I improve, what do I need to change because if you don’t do anything or you just do the same thing over and over again you stay the same and staying the same means going backwards because the other guys are working hard and improving. So I always needed to find ways to improve my game as well."

So the question then becomes, not whether or not athletes should struggle to become champions but instead, what are some critical ways athletes need to struggle in order to reach their full potential. At SPMI, athletes learn how to embrace the struggle and develop world-class routines and successful habits among others. Below are 3 types of struggles that all athletes need to incorporate into their daily lives. 

Self-Discipline: Is the ability to go after their goals while resisting outside temptations and distractions that may present themselves along the way. Athletes need to make daily commitments to themselves that they will confront discomfort and commit to taking many small actions each day that are aligned with their overall goals. 

Independence: Is when athletes are able to train on their own and not look to others for help. Many athletes who struggle with independence have lives outside of their sport that are very co-dependent. This makes it more difficult for athletes to develop this necessary skill. For athletes to achieve more independence, actions must be put in place to make athletes more responsible and accountable each day. 

Work Ethic: Similar to independence, work ethic also needs to be enhanced through taking bigger actions each day. Many coaches and parents make the mistake of getting into big lectures and explanations with their athletes on why they need to be working harder. This almost always leads no where and in some cases even leads to future sport burnout. Instead, coaches and parents need to be positive with the athlete but very challenging with the day to day actions that are in place. Therefore, put the action in place and support the athlete the entire way as they struggle to achieve it.