Mental Toughness vs Technical Skill. Which Wins Games?

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Do negative thoughts and self-blame ever cause you to struggle during a sports game? The horror of lacking the mental toughness needed to compete against your opponent is frightening, but standing against your opponent with undeveloped skill is even scarier. Technical skill in elite sports is more significant than mental toughness. While the need for mental toughness is not completely removed, the foundation of technical skill is required to pursue to a higher level in all sports.

To the average person, it is daunting to compete in a finals match against your opponent. The difference between an amateur and a professional sports player is that an amateur is less likely to have the experience of dealing with pressure during a match. A professional sports player’s foundational skills have already been fully developed, which allows them to seek success in elite sport, such as the well-known basketball player Michael Jordan. “Michael Jordan, who has hit multiple game-winning shots under the most pressure-filled of situations.” (The Importance) He has played basketball since youth, and it has been almost natural for him to win a game. He succeeded in his career because he previously matured his abilities. If someone has mastered the skill completely, the body’s mechanisms would not think about the movement anymore; hence the skill itself would come naturally. “The harder they push on the field, the better the results will be.” (The Importance) As athletes practice to perform, their skill would enhance along with their mental toughness. As the WG publisher stated, “The ability to perform a sporting skill consistently well at speed, under fatigue and pressure conditions in a competition environment.” If an athlete has experience in performing under pressure, put on by coaches, parents and peers, they will be naturally tough mentally during the “real” performance. The athlete would treat the “real” game as their practice performance, therefore would not be stressed out during the real game.

Negative comments, when is it too much?

Coaches and parents put pressure on players before a game, and it takes effort to refute the negative comments. The science of developing mental toughness states that “mental toughness is built through small physical wins.” (The science) Pressure-filled situations put on by coaches, parents, and peers often relate to confidence, if dealing with the pressure is hard for someone, it often traces back to their mastery of the sport. If one has mastered the foundation of skill, the negative comments put on by the coaches and parents will not matter, because one would be confident enough to believe that they will not make mistakes.

With passion comes confidence. But have we ever thought about where passion comes from? From a young age, people always asked us what we like to do and what our hobbies are. Hobbies are just a way of saying what you are good at. You would not say your hobby is drawing if you do not feel you are good at it. People with the desire to pursue a passion practice that skill and become confident in their abilities to achieve great things. If someone has a strong foundation of technical skill, they would be confident, and will have passion.

Mental toughness can lead to being overly boastful and exaggeration. Imagining that you have the ability to master or be a master at the sport will often lead to a crash of reality. Words like “I will come back stronger tomorrow” or “I believe in myself” are cliche and absolutely do not make a difference when playing a game if you do not have technical skill.  “Mental toughness isn’t about getting an incredible dose of inspiration or courage. It’s about building the daily habits that allow you to stick to a schedule and overcome challenges and distractions over and over and over again.” (The science) Building in time to practice develops stronger mental toughness and this is an advantage to skills development. “I think I can” won’t cut it.

Technical skill in elite sports is more significant than mental toughness because it is what drives the athlete to push their body to the limits. Establishing a skill requires a level of confidence and perseverance to continue to develop your abilities, which leads to passion and deeply loving the sport. If skills are not continuously developed, where does the assurance come from that leads to the win?


Works Cited:

  1. “The Importance of Mental Toughness.” Ohio University, 7 Jan. 2019,
  2. “Sports Skills: The 7 Sports Skills Steps You Must Master in Every Sport.” WG COACHING, 10 May 2018,
  3. James Clear. “The Science of Developing Mental Toughness in Health, Work, and Life.” James Clear, 10 Dec. 2018,