Grit: Get tough with tough love

As we leave another Valentine’s Day behind, it’s time we put down the feel-good greeting cards to refocus on sports and let loose a little harsh truth: tough love breeds toughness.

Tough love is real love

Love is too often romanticized into something simple and carefree, that once you’re “in” it's all smiles and flowers and hearts and x’s and o’s, forever and ever. Pretty, yes. Practical? Not even close. No doubt falling in love is wonderful.

“Falling” is, however, the simple part. (As athletes, we know gravity cannot be resisted!) It’s the staying—the constant maintenance, the working through the hard parts, the training, and the getting over the unavoidable mistakes and hiccups—that constitute a successful love relationship.

Don’t be mistaken: the same basic principles that apply to love also apply to sports.

Tough love means getting gritty, and even a little dirty

Call it what you will: mental toughness, resilience, grit. It’s all the same thing. The point is that athletes use this skill to overcome challenges and to perform and live to their fullest potential, even when things get rough.

Any coach or athlete knows that wins aren't the result of spur of the moment decisions. One doesn't simply decide one morning, “I’d like to be an All-Star athlete,” then roll up to an event and win. Wins are the result of a long, steady, difficult journey from dream to reality involving rigorous workouts, innumerable drills, hours reviewing plays, multiple team meetings, nights of research, following strict dietary considerations, participating in mental practices, developing trust with team building exercises… The list goes on and on.

 Success doesn't happen by “falling”; it doesn't happen by whims and fancies and wishes. It happens by getting dirty and having a plan. It happens after you invest sweat, tears, aches, and pains, torn muscles and stretched ligaments and broken bones. It happens via grass stains, blood stains, heartaches and fights with coaches and teammates.

Athletic success requires diligent planning that peers far into the future—days, weeks, months, and even years ahead.

That sort of diligence requires mental toughness. It requires grit.

What is grit?

In April 2013, psychologist Angela Dee Duckworth did a TED talk entitled The Key to Success: GRIT. In it, she discussed grit, showed why it’s important to success, and explained how we can understand it better.

She recites the following definition:

Grit is the ability to have passion and perseverance for long-term goals" - Angela Dee Duckworth, Psychologist

Why is grit important?

In her research, Duckworth looked at West Point cadets, students, teachers, and salespeople, and found that the #1 predictor of success across the board was not talent, intelligence, or social economic status. It was grit.

[Tweet "The #1 predictor of success is not talent, intelligence, or social economic status. It is grit."]

In fact, there was often no correlation between intelligence/talent and grit, and sometimes there was even an inverse relationship: the more talent a student had the less “gritty” they were.

Sound familiar?

It’s common for highly talented athletes to be the least ‘tough’, relying solely on their athletic prowess to pummel through the often chaotic world of sports, while ones with less talent have to get tough, have to use their grit, to press firmly onward and succeed. They love themselves tough with their grit, forcing themselves to practice harder, push further, and WIN.

Tough love = getting tough

There is still much more research to be done in this area, but one thing is certain: teaching young people a growth mindset (that intelligence, talent, et cetera, isn't ‘fixed’) can change their perception of their own potential.

When students were taught that the brain can grow and change, they were more likely to persevere when they failed because they didn’t have the all-too-common belief that failure is a permanent condition.

It's not. It's changeable... when the appropriate amount of grit is applied, that is.

In other words, their grit led them to hope. Hope that they could grow and change and improve, that their success and failure were determined by them, not by some innate ability they either did or didn’t have.

And isn't this hope, this grit, what we want all our athletes to have?


Coaches: How do you teach your athletes grit? Share your tricks and tips with us in the comments!

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