The stability of mental toughness across situations: Taking a social-cognitive approach

Robert Weinberg *, Joanne Butt **, Kathleen Mellano * and Robert Harmison ***

(*) Miami University, USA
(**) Sheffield Hallam University, UK
(***) James Madison University, USA


Weinberg, R., Butt, J., Mellano, K., Harmison, R. (2017). The stability of mental toughness across situations: Taking a social-cognitive approach. International Journal of Sport Psychology, 48(3), 280-302. doi:10.7352/IJSP.2017.48.280


The present study adopted a social-cognitive perspective to explore the stability of mental toughness. Specifically, the purpose of this study was two-fold: (a) to explore possible fluctuations in mental toughness across situations; and (b) to identify the cognitions, affect, and behaviors associated with perceived mental toughness and mental weakness. Participants were tennis players (n=12) based full time in an elite performance academy and were aged between 14 and 20 years (Mage = 16.5; SD = 2.66). Players were interviewed and transcribed interviews were analyzed using a thematic analysis (Braun & Clarke, 2006). Three researchers searched for themes across the interview data and reached consensus on the coding of raw data and subsequent categorization of data into themes. Players identified a variety of competition (e.g., opponents, pressure) and training (e.g., consistency, intensity) related situations requiring mental toughness. Findings indicated that players could be mentally tough in some situations but mentally weak in other situations suggesting that mental toughness can fluctuate. In addition, players identified different cognitions, affect, and behaviors when they perceived mental toughness and mental weakness. Regarding coping strategies, findings confirm the important role of confidence in mental toughness and should remain central to interventions designed to build mental toughness. To conclude, it is anticipated that findings generated can be used as a platform to develop context-rich mental toughness training interventions.

Keywords: Coping, Mental toughness, Mental weakness, Stability