Mental toughness plays a large role in athletic success



Senior Adam Zukowski looks to move the ball and create a scoring opportunity. "In soccer, as a forward, it's more important to be mentally tough because your whole team is relying on you," Zukowski said.

Senior soccer player Adam Zukowski is no stranger to pressure packed moments. When the clock is winding down and the ball is at his feet, he contends that being mentally tough is imperative to finding success. For most athletes, this vision is shared. According to the Journal of Sports Science and Medicine, “athletes with successful outcomes in performance displayed greater mental toughness.” However, being mentally tough is not a characteristic that can be obtained without hard work. As put by Psychology Today, “pressure is something that you put on yourself.” Competitive situations should be seen as positive challenges, and it is up to athletes to learn through failures and emerge as a stronger teammates and more composed competitors.

At St. Paul Academy, Zukowski and sophomore cross country runner Mia Schubert both recognize that mental fortitude has helped them become successful in their respective sports, and it starts with hard work.

“Being mentally tough is more important than athletic talent and ability for the most part because being mentally tough and not getting rattled easily will allow you to work a lot harder than someone who is really talented and doesn’t have a work ethic,” Zukowski said.

I definitely think that being mentally tough is more important than athletic ability when running. Cross country, in my opinion, is a mental sport and I think that in order to be physically strong, you first need to be mentally tough,” Schubert explained.

Zukowski plays forward, and for him, forwards face these questions differently than other positions.

“In soccer, as a forward, it’s more important to be mentally tough because your whole team is relying on you. If you mess up, it’s a lot harder and it’s really tough on you on the team, like when you miss a goal,” Zukowski said.

“If you’re tough, you’ll shake it off and be ready to score the next one,” he added.  

Being mentally tough is more important than athletic talent and ability.”

— Adam Zukowski

As a cross country runner, being able to sustain your speed as the distance gets longer is extremely important, and Schubert recognizes this.

During races, [being mentally tough] is especially important because your body is telling you to quit the entire time, but everything else around you is telling you to keep going and finish strong,” Schubert said.

Since soccer is played outdoors, Zukowski contends that it makes being mentally tough even more important.

“To be mentally tough, you need to be able to play in all circumstances and never blame it on the weather, because that is what happens a lot. People either blame it on the refs or on the conditions,” Zukowski explained.

The same goes for Schubert.

“Since we run outside from mid-August through late-October, we run in all sorts of conditions. I believe that mental toughness increases during the more extreme types of weather. If it’s really hot and sunny it can be tough to keep going, especially at the beginning of the season. Again, your body wants to quit, but the only way to get better is to push yourself,” Schubert said.

This story was originally in the October issue of The Rubicon.