Cardiff Metropolitan University
7995 - Declan Connaughton.pdf (13.65 MB)

An examination of mental toughness in competitive sport.

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posted on 2022-10-17, 13:24 authored by Declan Connaughton


This thesis provided an in-depth examination of mental toughness in sports performers, and

comprised three studies, of which Study 3 contained two parts. The aim of the thesis was to:

define mental toughness, identify its component parts, devise a working framework of mental

toughness, and identify the underlying mechanisms involved in the development and

maintenance of mental toughness. Study 1 addressed the definition of mental toughness and

its essential components using 10 international performers. The proposed definition

emphasized both general and specific dimensions , and 12 attributes fundamental to the ideal

mentally tough performer. These covered self-belief, desire/motivation, dealing with pressure

and anxiety, focus (performance and lifestyle related), and pain/hardship factors. Study 2 built

upon the findings of Study 1 in a sample of eight Olympic or World Champions, three

coaches, and four sport psychologists. Findings verified the definition, and identified 30

attributes that were developed into a working framework of mental toughness. The 30

attributes were found to cluster into 13 subcomponents and four dimensions within an overall

working framework: a general dimension (attitude/mindset), and three time-specific

dimensions (training, competition, post-competition). Study 3 re-interviewed l1 of the

participants from Study 2 regarding: (a) the development and maintenance of mental

toughness, and (b) how the framework dimensions and subcomponents interacted during the

development and maintenance process. Findings revealed four distinct career phases in the

development and maintenance of mental toughness. Critical incidents, both positive and

negative, were perceived to act as catalysts in cultivating mental toughness, and once

acquired, mental toughness needed to be maintained. Findings also confirmed the

development and subsequent maintenance of mental toughness over three stages. Factors

affecting development and maintenance included: stage l, skill mastery and socialization;

stage2, competitiveness, successes in training and competitions; and stage 3, international

competitive experience, education, the use of mental skills, a wide ranging social support

network, and reflective practice. This prolonged research program has resulted in an

empirically based definition of mental toughness, the development of a framework depicting

its component parts, and provided an in-depth understanding of the mechanisms involved in

the development and maintenance of mental toughness. Practical implications indicate that

mental toughness develops over three distinct stages, in the dimensional order of

attitude/mindset, training, competition, and post-competition, and requires maintenance.

Future directions are discussed in relation to measurement and intervention strategies.



  • School of Sport and Health Sciences

Qualification level

  • Doctoral

Qualification name

  • PhD

Publication year


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