What the heck is Grit and do I need it to win?

Are you on the quest to up your game, or improve performance in your sport? Your coach is helping you to increase your physical performance, but are you giving attention to your mental performance? Has anyone told you that you have grit? If not, then it’s time you probably get some.  So what the heck is grit and do I need it to win?

In a recent published study (Larkin & O’Connor, 2015) Grit was defined as a personality trait, which “entails working obstinately toward challenges while sustaining effort and interest in the activity over years in spite of disappointment, hardship, and plateaus”. In other words grit is persevering no matter what the outcome is. It means sticking with it, pushing past the uncomfortable stages and times when you think you can’t get through, but somehow, whether by chance or plan, you do. Larkin & O’Connor’s study resolved that elite level soccer players who had more experience showed more grit than lower level, less experienced players. It has been shown that grittier individuals continually excel in sport, education and job performance. So the answer to my original question is YES, grit is a needed component to excel in sport, but the next question is what comes first, grit or experience?

Some may say that grit is something you are born with and it is engrained in you from your upbringing, however is grit something that can be learned? Yes, grit, like mental toughness, can be learned if coping mechanisms are in place. First you need to ask yourself some tough questions: Do I like my sport? Am I participating in my sport because I want to or am I doing it to please others? What are my goals in my sport? If you aren’t truly in love with your sport, then grit will be hard to come by when times get tough. If your sport is a hobby, then how important is generating grit for your sport specifically and where should it be on your priority list?  How much grit is really needed for you to enjoy your sport?  These are all questions that a sport psychology consultant can help you find answers to but ultimately you already hold the answers and solutions to finding your own grit. 

So what comes first, grit or experience? My answer is experience because through experience we learn to overcome, persevere or even that we need to quit and move on. Persevering because you love your sport and want to be better at it is Grit! So if that describes you, then you are already one step ahead at excelling in your performance.  If quitting describes your experience, then find the next thing you like and test if you can persevere in that until you find what makes you gritty, because grittiness begets passion and passion begets success.

Aloha… until next time. DR


Larkin, P. & O’Conner, D. (2015). Does Grit Influence Sport-Specific Engagement and Perceptual-Cognitive Expertise in Elite Youth Soccer. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 28, 129-138.

Dealing with loss, when you (& everyone) expected you to win.

In the past few weeks, the world of MMA has been in the spotlight and under the microscope of sports media. The much-hyped Holm vs. Rousey, Wideman vs. Rockhold, and McGregor vs. Aldo fights have all ended in a crazy and dramatic fashions.  The media has been swarming these fighters both before and after their fights.  I recently saw a video of the reactions of Jose Aldo and his fight team after his most recent fight.  It showed an inconsolable fighter after a devastating loss.  As an empathetic human like most of the earth’s population, I felt saddened that this footage was released to the public.  It shows a person at his most vulnerable state. As an advocate of Applied Sport Psychology, I find this footage an inevitable reality of every competition that ever existed.  Winning is what we all work and train so hard for.  These fighters spend months pummeling their bodies and training their minds to visualize the moments of their win and it is devastating and surreal when it doesn’t go as planned but there is much to be said about what to do if and when we don’t win.

Loosing hurts!  It sucks!  It’s the worst feeling in the world, it’s defeating and makes you question every decision that you have made up until that point, but as we all have learned or will learn the hard way, it’s always part of the game.  These are hard words to swallow and sound flippant in the moments after a defeat, especially when they come from someone else.  Hearing it from others almost feel worse and can actually make you start to loose confidence in yourself and start catastrophizing the whole situation with statements like, “I’ve wasted so much time training”, “I don’t even deserve to be here”, “I suck”.  Or possibly you are looking to place blame with statements like “my opponent was stalling”, “my uniform was uncomfortable”, “the ref sucked” etc.  Perhaps some of these self-statements are true, so much that your team is in agreement with you, but you MUST be aware at this moment.  This critical moment determines the outcome of your next competition.  It even affects the way in which you cope with outcomes in the rest of your life.  Post-competition analysis is just as important as pre-competition training!  Feeling overwhelmed or emotional after your loss?  STOP LISTENING TO EVERYONE FOR A MINUTE!  This may sound unorthodox and maybe it sounds like the worst piece of advice in a moment where you are not so trusting of yourself, but hear me out.  After your loss, you may be ready to get right back into training to fix whatever went wrong or maybe you are ready to quit all together, but first take a look at your most important tool in your training (you, duh).  Take some time to shut everyone else out temporarily and do an honest analysis of your experience of both before and during your competition. You can do this by yourself or I would suggest a Sport Psychology Consultant, but it is so important that you be fair and balanced when reviewing self-judgments.  Ask yourself critical and difficult questions about your training and during competition decisions and reactions.  Mentally run through your whole training camp and competition step by step.  It is absolutely essential that you avoid tempting self-defeating thoughts, excuses and placing blame during this assessment.  Be real with yourself first.  Once you have been honest with yourself you can be honest with your team.  Your team has spent so much of their lives helping yours and they have your best interest at heart, so it is important to listen to them, but make sure you spend time analyzing your own internal mental state as well.  Once you’ve done that, you will have a renewed sense of optimism, which is essential to reaching the goals you have set for yourself.

Set it and Reach it.  Get To The Peak of your Performance.

Olympic level results with a ‘do my best attitude’?

I have been thinking about what kind of content I should post as my very first blog post for Get To The Peak. I found myself ‘hemming and hawing’ about what kind of content I want to put out there as representative of the sport and performance psychology field. I found myself having performance anxiety about writing about performance psychology! How ironic, but very real for those of us humans who want to put our best foot forward when it comes to achieving goals or competing in front of others.  

How we view the outcome of our performance most definitely affects the success of our performance. Its pretty funny that we need to learn to view our performance outcomes in a certain light, in order actually perform at our very best. The sound of having to do that sort of thinking work about playing a sport, in order to just play a sport may leave a lot of us with the mentality of; ‘I’m just going to play my best’ rather than do a bunch of worrying about ‘playing my best’. ‘Playing our best’ goes along way, which is why we all use that famous saying, ‘practice makes perfect’. This mentality may get you very far in your performance, however how do you know if you are tapping all of the potential that you truly possess? I read a study about this type of mentality while researching mental toughness. The study found that athletes who had the mentality of just ‘playing their best’ actually played significantly worse than athletes who had specific performance goals and who had purposefully planned and attempted mental toughness in their sport[i]. Doing your best gets you a long way, but planning to do your best will get you farther. Planning for mental toughness will get you playing at the peak of your potential and towards your peak performance.

Where do I even begin? Ask yourself some seriously tough questions…

1. Why do I play my sport? Is it because I enjoy it? I’m good at it? Because others say that I’m good at it or because my parents push me to do it? Is it because I get a rush when I win? These are just some examples of how you can answer this question. Do you play your sport for internal or personal reasons and rewards or because of external benefits or rewards? How you view your sport has a lot to do with how successful you play. 

2. Do I have a ‘do my best mentality’ and am I satisfied with the performance outcomes that I am getting with this mentality? If not, maybe it’s time to take another look at how and why you are playing your sport.

3. What are my performance goals and outcome expectations, and are they realistic? If I am not satisfied with my performance outcomes, am I expecting more or less from the work and planning that I am putting into my sport? For example, do I expect Olympic level results with a ‘do my best attitude’?

Asking yourself these questions and being realistic about the answers, although tough and sometimes not easy to admit to, are the first step on the climb to your peak. Trust me, or rather trust yourself... by considering these questions you are already beginning the journey to improve your performance. This is first and probably hardest step in your climb to the peak. Think, plan and actively pursue your performance goals and your outcome results will show your efforts.


[i] Lerner, B. S. & Locker, E. A. (1995). The effects of goal setting, self-efficacy, competition and personal traits on the performance of an endurance task. Journal of Sport & Exercise Psychology, 17, 138-152.