Winning the Head Game: Talking Mental Toughness with Female Olympic & World Elite Athletes

Mental Toughness– something every one of us has battled with. The moment when your mind is working to pull you in a direction, hold you back from reaching, achieving, even believing you can do more, achieve more, be more. Every single athlete has faced this and like some of us, succumb to the pressure of the voice in the mind.

The mind is constantly sending signals to our bodies to quit or even worse, give up way before we are ready. It can also convince us of situations or scenarios that could potentially create obstacles, difficulties or with too much analysis…paralysis.

Working with so many professional athletes, this subject comes up almost daily in conversation. Every race, performance, game, is a competition that sometimes can be most prominent and lethal between your own two ears.

Elite Para-triathlete Mary Kate Callahan knows this all too well-

When competing at an elite level, sometimes your biggest competition is in your head. I’ve learned through training and racing that at some point we are going to have tough times but it’s our head that determines how we respond in those times. I try not to worry about the past and tell myself to learn from every mistake. I try to take at least one positive thing out of every situation. The pressure to perform at your best is expected not only of yourself but of everyone invested in you- your team, coach, owners, family.”

Some key attributes of those who successfully control the mental game and exhibit mental toughness:

Attitude– a must to keep it positive, never give up and keep pushing forward. A can do, will do what it takes to get it done attitude. Learn from the mistakes, make the proper adjustments and move forward with confidence!

Visualization– believe that it will happen; visualize the win, manifest if you will…success, achieving/exceeding your goal and focusing the mind on that outcome.

Resilience– injury, loss, failure…things all of us have experienced. If you choose to give in and give up- you are losing the mental battle/allowing your mind to control you in a negative way. A setback can and will create a comeback by staying resilient and having a positive attitude.

2x United States Olympic Medalist and 2014 United States Olympic Team Captain, Women’s Ice Hockey / 5x time World Gold Champion Meghan Duggan has used mental toughness to overcome challenging situations in her sport: “I have used mental toughness to overcome lots of different situations, but one that sticks out in my mind is when I was trying to bounce back from a string of pretty severe head injuries. I was most certainly staring adversity in the face; I was staring a potential end of my career in the face. For months I had to dig deep mentally and figure out what I was made of and how I was going to get myself better. It was a mental challenge every day for over 14 months but I stayed resilient and was able to come out of it a better player, teammate, and leader. Mental toughness, to me, is what championship athletes are made of. It’s the ability to lead, perform, manage and master the task at hand, all while under pressure or in the face of adversity. Mental toughness is digging deep and figuring out how badly you want something and how you are going to get it accomplished!”


As you can see, anything is possible when we can maintain a mentally strong attitude and belief. It takes practice and getting comfortable with being uncomfortable at times, but in the end… the outcome is amazing! As a mentor of mine, Fred DeVito always says… “If it doesn’t challenge you, it doesn’t change you!”

Keep your inner circle filled with positive, supportive energy/people and remember you CAN do more, accomplish more and BE more… always! xx, a-m

For more inspiration from the #powerladies quoted in this article, check out Mary Kate @mkcallahan13 (Twitter and Instagram) and Meghan @mduggan10 (Twitter and Instagram) #strong #confident #healthy