Mental toughness the key to a successful season

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NSW Swifts' Catherine Cox in action during the 2008 Netball Finals Series between the NSW Swifts and Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic in Sydney, Monday, July 28, 2008. The Swifts won 65-56. AAP Image/Jenny Evans

NSW Swifts' Catherine Cox in action during the 2008 Netball Finals Series between the NSW Swifts and Waikato/Bay of Plenty Magic in Sydney, Monday, July 28, 2008. The Swifts won 65-56. AAP Image/Jenny Evans

As the finals approach, it raises the question of what it is that has separated the top four from the rest of the pack. Whilst it’s obvious that the teams in the four have a talented playing list, the ability to reach the finals relies on more than just playing talent.

This was no more evident than in the inaugural ANZ Championship season where the NSW Swifts took the flag ahead of other, more favoured and talented opposition.

Factors such as tactical plays, team cohesion – both on and off the court – technical skills, as well as fitness, all play a major part in putting together a team that can make it to the grand final.

But aside from this, one of the most important skills for an athlete to conquer is that of mental toughness, and it is this skill that is often skimmed over or ignored all together.

Throughout this season alone, there have been several games that have potentially affected the chances of teams making it to the final series.

No other team has damaged their season more than the New Zealand side, the Canterbury Tactix.

In several games this season, the Tactix have managed to go into overtime after being ahead, and lost, as well as having been in the position to win the game and yet lose in the dying moments of regular full time.

These wins may have resulted in a far different season for this team than the one that they have ended up having.

So what is it that has caused the Tactix, and other sporting teams and individuals in years gone by, to continually suffer these kinds of losses?

Is it fitness?

The ability of athletes to perform at a continual intense level, execute skills, and have correct decision making is so often reliant on the fitness levels of a player.

It is evident that in different sports, and certainly netball as well, that the fitness of some players can come in to question.

But perhaps experience, or the lack of, can affect a team as much as fitness.

Poor performances of teams are often attributed, by both coaches and players, to the fact that they have a young list or that they are not experienced enough.

In some cases this can be reality, but does this just become an easy way out for clubs to explain their losses?

At the end of the day, the mental toughness of individual players and that of a team can have a far greater impact on the results of a season.

History has shown that there have been athletes across all sports that may have not had the skill or even the experience of their opposition, but instead their strength has been in their mental capabilities – the ability to get back up and fight to the end, the ability to score the winning goal or to hit the winning runs when the pressure is on, to ignore all the interference and control what goes on between an athlete’s ears.

The experience of a player does not automatically result in that person being mentally tough.

It is something that needs to be worked on, as even the most experienced players can buckle under pressure.

After all, you just need to look at Donna Loffhagen missing that goal, right under the post in the 1999 World Netball Championship to lose the game for the Silver Ferns.

In reality, Loffhagen could probably shoot that goal with her eyes closed, but perhaps the time and the pressure of the situation was not something she was mentally prepared for.

With finals only weeks away, those teams in the final four will be hoping that all bases have been covered throughout the season.

And come that Grand Final weekend, perhaps the team who has prepared just as well or even more so mentally as they have physically and tactically, will end up with the silverware.

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