Welcome to Koa Snippets, a series of posts that are previews of articles that will be released at a later time. This particular snippet pertains to mental toughness. Feel free to comment on this post and/or make recommendations for later topics.

mental toughness


“How do you coach mental toughness and focus?”


As a disclaimer, this not a complete process. I’m highlighting a couple of areas that I feel are really important.

First, define mental toughness. My oversimplified version, the ability to meet challenges head-on with the intent to persevere.

What is it that allows us to do that? I think two key components are confidence (belief in self and others) and composure (ability to control emotional responses).

Both need to be addressed in practices and games, but for this comment, I’d like to focus on confidence. According to Jeff Janssen in the Team Captain’s Manual, there are four sources of confidence – preparation, past success, strengths, and praise.

It takes a deliberate effort to build confidence in athletes but it is certainly doable. Primarily, I’d say that there needs to be a prioritization on identifying opportunities to speak into an athlete’s experience to foster development or build in these areas.

For example, a team has been busting their butts preparing. They’re in a difficult match or situation. Remind them of the time, effort, and sacrifice that they’ve put in. Or maybe you can relay the time you spent specifically training for this particular situation or moment. Maybe you spent a ton of time working FBSO and you have a slim lead late. Remind them that they’ve spent copious amounts of time training for this very moment. Tic for tac and we win.

This could apply to all areas. Remind them of their strengths. Or if they’re struggling with a particular phase of the game, remind them that they can contribute in other ways. Example, I had an OH2 that was struggling with the offensive side of the game but she was passing nails in serve receive. I reminded her that this is how she was going to contribute most to our championship run. We had her pass the entire court with the libero so that she could free up the other attackers.

One of my favorites is the building of (past success) libraries. Each time an athlete faces a contentious moment and is successful, I remind her to put it in her library so that she can pull that book later when she needs it. Or maybe we’re in a specific situation, say down late in the game, I can remind the team that they are veteran’s of this type of situation. They have thick books loaded with examples of past success. Refer back to your book and know that it can be done.

And praise is the final…although my least favorite because I don’t want confidence being reliant on the words of others. However, it can be a useful coaching tool. A player is in a tough situation, say, she’s been blocked three times in a row. I can pull her to the side (or in front of the whole team) and tell her, “Hey, you know you’re a stud right? There’s nobody I trust more in this situation than you.”

Obviously, there has to be validity to what you’re saying or it can be counterproductive.


The full blown article will discuss two other very important points as it relates to mental toughness.

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