Mental Toughness in Sport: Golf Essay

The use of mental toughness in sports is essential, especially in professional league games, where focus and concentration is required in order for exceptional performance. The notion of ignoring distractions and focusing solely on the task ahead is constantly scrutinised by psychologists in order to determine the underlying factors resulting in poor performance (Carroll, 2013). Mental toughness correlates to the term that refers to the positive attributes that are held to help a person cope with difficult situations, as it is seen to be a stress buffer that aids in pressurised and adverse situations (Clough et al. 002).

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The term mental toughness is frequently used to describe the mental state of athletes, who are expected to persevere through difficult sport circumstances in order to succeed. Athletes competing in professional sporting tournaments are required to maintain a mental state that focuses solely on their sport; the refusal to be intimidated, the determination to finish on top, despite hardships and the ability to control and overcome emotions under immense pressure (Kent).

The article, Masters 2013: How Elite Golfers Stay Cool Under Major Pressure (Carroll, 2013), highlights the intensity of the pressure associated with professional sporting, and the mental toughness that is essential to success. Similarly, the articles comprised by Crust (2009), Nichols et al. (2009), Dewhurst (2012) and the article by Crust and Swann (2011), shows the comparison of using a universal questionnaire to examine the development of mental toughness. Golf is a sport that requires complete focus and perseverance in order to succeed.

As stated by Carroll (2013), athletes are plagued with tremendous pressure from attempting to win majors, as well as juggling personal issues and competition stress. Mental toughness is essential in sports that require concentration, where athletes are seen to rely on routines and rituals to create a mind set that aids with the repetition of success and triumph. The MTQ48, is a questionnaire used to evaluate mental toughness, by analysing positive and negative feedback mechanisms and physical tasks (Clough et al. 002).

The test consisted of 112 sport participants, 55 men and 57 women, and were required to regularly attend fitness sessions and activities at least twice a week. The participants ranged from basketballers, golfers, long-distance runners and triathlon athletes. Each was required to complete the questionnaire to analyse the relationship between mental toughness, affect intensity and age. The test proved no significant difference in the mental toughness of males and females, with age not being a factor.

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The results showed that mentally tough athletes were able to control their emotions thus experiencing lower intensities stemming from emotion producing stimuli (Crust, 2009). In terms of golf, athletes need to be mentally prepared from the beginning of games, in order for success with less thinking and more playing highlighted as being a cause of triumph (Carroll 2013). In order for a golfer to succeed, the idea of committing to the task at hand and obtaining a self-absorbed focus of the game is essential; thus lowering emotions and increasing game intensity (Jones et al. 2007).

The MTQ48 test, conducted by Crust (2009), proved to be successful to a certain level, with the focus of the test being on he relationship between mental toughness, affect intensity and age, however, the MTQ48 (Clough et al. 2002) test conducted by Nichols et al. (2009) focused primarily on the effects of age, sport type, experience and level. The participants, 454 males and 223 females, were required to complete a 48-item Mental Toughness Questionnaire which assessed six subcomponents; challenge, commitment, interpersonal confidence, confidence in own abilities, emotional control, and life control (Nichols et al. 009).

The results indicate athletes of higher levels not having a higher mental toughness than others; as proven by Tiger Woods, former number one in golf, who, through personal crisis’ showed a drop in confidence, in turn affecting his ability to perform at his best. His inability to concentrate affected his playing, as was influenced by the pressure from his personal life, of which added to his lack of focus and decrease of mental toughness (Carroll, 2013).

The tests, conducted by Crust (2009) and Nichols et al. 2009), were conducted using the same underlying questionnaire, although the analysis and overall results were considered more specific using Nichols et al. (2009) data. Similarly, is the study conducted by Dewhurst (2012), which tested using a MTQ48 test, to test for a positive relationship between mental toughness and direct forgetting. The study surveyed 27 females and 33 males, who were tested in a group testing lab. The questionnaire sampled 48 statements to which participants answered using a Likert scale.

The study found no relationship present between mental toughness and the forgetting of unwanted information, proving no advantage given to golf athletes during tournaments, however it was suggested that mentally tough individuals are more likely to be able to prevent old information and problems from interfering with the accumulation of new problems. Present in the article (Carroll, 2013), shows the direct relationship between mental toughness and game interference through Tiger Woods. Personal problems and the inability to ignore and overcome these, play a major role in the hindering of mental toughness.

The most frequent measuring of mental toughness is done through the MTQ48 (Clough et al. 2002), test, however a newer method is through using the SMTQ instrument (Sheard, 2010), although tests have proven that there are similarities in both instruments; in terms of scales produced. 110 male athletes were examined by the completion of two questionnaires, the MTQ48, containing 48 questions using a 5 point Likert scale, and the SMTQ comprising of a 14 item questionnaire, using a 4 point Likert scale, and testing on confidence, constancy and control.

The testing found a positive relationship between the SMTQ and MTQ48, in measuring mental toughness, however the tests showed that emotional control was rated lowest on the consistency scale, with many of the athletes stating they hide their emotions from others (Crust, Swann, 2011). Golf is a game played in real time situations, of which if athletes are unable to block out emotions and personal situations from their game playing, mental toughness levels decrease, resulting in poor performance.

The testing for mental toughness, mainly through the MTW48 questionnaire is a generalised test, in that the test is conducted on athletes in a testing lab, in the same environment and setting, of which can be improved by testing in real time playing situations to retrieve more accurate results, as well as attempting to use verbal instructions in order to examine cognitive inhibitions, in addition to the written questionnaire.

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