“The New Toughness Training for Sports” By James E. Loehr

Today I feel super generous, thrilled and excited to share mind blowing success skills that I picked from one of my best read this year :The New Toughness For Sports. Well, Life is a sport!  This book has simple practical ideas on how you can effectively play the game of life. Enjoy!

 “As long as a flicker of life exists, there’s hope—hope to fight back, to rebuild,to grow, to become more, to emerge victorious in the greatest, most important battle of all—the conquest of self.”

~ Jim Loehr



1.Ideal Performance State

Act like a champion.

2. The Challenge Response

(+ Emotional target practice!)

3. Making Waves

Stress + recovery = growth.

4. The March of Champions

How’s your walk?

5. The First Rule

(Of toughness!)

6. Getting Tough Mentally

17 key strategies.

7. Goals

Performance vs. outcome. (Where is the catch? 😉 😉

“Toughness training is the art and science of increasing your ability to handle all kinds of stress—physical, mental, and emotional—so that you’ll be a more effective competitor. It’s a highly sophisticated and thoroughly proven method of perfecting your sport skills while minimizing the risk of physical injuries and emotional setbacks that so often attend overtraining.

What does toughness training toughen?

Your mind, body, and emotions will become more flexible, responsive, resilient, and stronger—the real meaning of tough as used here—through Toughness Training.”

~ Jim Loehr from The New Toughness Training for Sports

How’d you like to get a little tougher? (Me, too!)

Well, you’re in luck.

We have Jim Loehr—one of the world’s leading sports psychologists who has worked with some of the world’s leading athletes—as our guide. (Loehr also wrote The Power of Full Engagement and Toughness Training for Life. Check out our Notes on both of those as well.)

Although the title of this book says it’s for sports, I think it’s perfect for everyone who performs—which is really all of us, eh? As a teacher, I love applying the wisdom to my arena and I imagine you will as well. (If you like this Note, I think you’ll dig the book. Get a copy “here”

As is the case with all great books, this one is packed with Big Ideas. I’m excited to share a few of my favorites so let’s jump straight in!

(P.S. As you may have noticed by now, I love mental toughness books. Check out our growing collection “here” )


“Do you think what happened to you in this example ever happens to super-competitors like Michael Jordan, Chris Evert, Wayne Gretzky, and Jimmy Connors? Do you think they always show up for the game feeling motivated, excited, eager, and confident?

If you’re not sure of the answer, let me give it to you. The super-competitors are just like you and me—they get tired, burned out, sick, and sore just like everybody else.

So how do they do it? How do they mobilize their Performance Selves and bring to life the emotions that empower them? By what miraculous means do great competitors transform fear into confidence, tiredness into energy, boredom into fun?

Here’s how: they learn exceptional performer skills.”

I love that question.

Do you think top performers always *feel* like showing up for the performance? That they’re always psyched up and ready to rock?

As Loehr tells us, the answer is quite simply, no. They’re just like you and me.

But what makes them truly great is that how they happen to feel pre-show time is irrelevant.

Super-competitors are able to access what he calls their “Ideal Performance State” at will.

Whether they *feel* like it or not, they have mastered the art of ACTING the way they want to feel. And their performance follows.

Here’s how Loehr puts it: “And how does this all relate to competitive toughness? The answer is simply this: great competitors are great actors. They have learned to move their body chemistry in the desired directions just as actors do. But for competitors the script is always the same: IPS.

Great competitors have learned to bring to life feelings of confidence, high energy, relaxation, fun, and challenge no matter how they really feel.”

This is awesome. Even if we don’t step into an arena to perform, we can still practice acting the way we’d like to perform so we can enter our Ideal Performance State at will.

Not feeling fired up for work? Alright. Act like you are.

Not feeling warm and fuzzy with the fam. No problem. Act like the inspired version of you would.


“Getting tough when the heat hits means becoming emotionally challenged. When adversity strikes it means no retreating, no whining, no excusing, no raging. The archer’s bull’s-eye means hanging in, holding on, mobilizing, firing up, and forging ahead when almost everyone else is heading for the locker room.

Rather than fear and helplessness, what you get is distinct feelings of aggressiveness, spirit, and fight combined with a profound sense of calmness and confidence. Competitive problems become stimulating rather than threatening and—since positive emotion fuels the challenge response—a sense of loving the battle gradually takes form.

To love winning is easy; to love the battle requires toughness, a skill that is honed only through dedicated emotional target practice.”

When the pressure is on, our attitude determines whether we experience a (sub-optimal) fight-or-flight response or the much more empowering “challenge response.”

Kelly McGonigal talks about this in her great book The Upside of Stress. Here’s how she puts it: “Like a fight-or-flight response, a challenge response gives you energy and helps you perform under pressure. Your heart rate still rises, your adrenaline spikes, your muscles and brain get more fuel, and the feel-good chemicals surge. But it differs from a fight- or-flight response in a few important ways: You feel focused but not fearful. You also release a different ratio of stress hormones, including higher levels of DHEA, which helps you recover and learn from stress. This raises the growth index of your stress response, the beneficial ratio of stress hormones that can determine, in part, whether a stressful experience is strengthening or harmful…

People who report being in a flow state—a highly enjoyable state of being completely absorbed in what you are doing—display clear signs of a challenge response. Artists, athletes, surgeons, video gamers, and musicians all show this kind of stress response when they’re engaged in their craft or skill. Contrary to what many people expect, top performers in these fields aren’t physiologically calm under pressure; rather, they have strong challenge responses. The stress response gives them access to their mental and physical resources, and the result is increased confidence, enhanced concentration, and peak performance.”

The key switch?

We want to trigger “feelings of aggressiveness, spirit, and fight combined with a profound sense of calmness and confidence.”

Best way to do that?

As with everything, practice. Emotional target practice as Loehr puts it.


“It’s important to understand that only rarely does the volume of stress defeat us; far more often the agent of defeat is insufficient capacity for recovery after the stress. Great stress simply requires great recovery. Your goal in toughness, therefore, is to be able to spike powerful waves of stress followed by equally powerful troughs of recovery.

So here is an essential Toughness Training Principle: WORK HARD. RECOVER EQUALLY HARD.

From a training perspective then, training recovery should receive as much attention as training stress. Unfortunately, that is rarely the case.”

This is one of the key aspects of Loehr’s mental toughness training. In short, it’s not the STRESS that is getting us down, it’s the LACK OF RECOVERY.

That’s a huge distinction.

We need to, as Loehr advises, “Work hard. Recover equally hard.” We need to lean into challenges AND systematically train ourselves to recover adequately.

Loehr calls that “making waves.”

Imagine a sine curve—oscillating up as we push ourselves and down as we recover. Up. Down. Up. Down. Nice, rhythmic WAVES of stress and then recovery. Stress followed by recovery…

THAT’s the magic ticket. We need to make waves.

How? Make recovery training as important as your creative pursuits. Prioritize things like a good night of sleep, naps, eating well, active and passive rest, seizing recovering opportunities and processing your emotions.

Here’s to making waves!


“All great tennis champions have that same walk between points—between their battles—that marching soldiers display. Top tough competitors show the same focus, confidence, energy, and precision that soldiers do when they walk. No weakness, nothing sloppy, nothing but strength. Tennis champions walk the way soldiers march to bolster courage and control. I’ve come to refer to it as the matador walk.

Practice looking and acting the way you want to feel in your performance situations. Doing that pays off in terms of victory in combat for soldiers; it can pay off in terms of victory in competition for you.”

Loehr walks us through his study of the military in pursuit of key practices that may apply to competitive sports. One of things he discovered is the universal importance of soldiers learning to march.

“Without stress you simply cannot achieve your goals as an athlete. Finding the balance between too much and not enough stress is a constant, must-win battle if you are to reach your full potential.”

~ Jim Loehr

Imagine young soldiers going through boot camp. Why do they learn to march?

Loehr tells us: “How do marching soldiers look on the outside? You never see any visible sign of weakness. If a soldier is tired you’ll never know it unless he or she collapses. No visible fatigue, no sagging shoulders, no negativism, no fear. What you see is total focus, confidence, positive energy, and precision. Every movement is decisive and clean, nothing sloppy and lazy. Every breath is synchronized to exact movement.

Marching prepares soldiers for battle by giving them practice in being decisive, and in looking strong and confident regardless of how they feel. It trains discipline, sustained concentration, decisiveness, and poise, all essential elements in conquering fear.”

How do YOU move your body in pressure situations? Pay attention. Whether you feel strong or not, hold your body, smile and breathe the way you would if you KNEW you had it all under control. Remember that your emotions respond to your physical postures. We need to PERFORM the way you want to feel.

And, the next time you’re watching a sporting event, pay attention to the way players respond after something goes wrong. The mentally wobbly competitors will slouch their shoulders, look exasperated and essentially defeated. The best will NEVER show signs of defeat.

Think of Michael Jordan and try to imagine him slouching and looking beaten. It doesn’t matter how badly he might be losing or how poorly he might be playing, he’s not going to let you think he’s down. Period.

Here’s to standing tall, breathing deeply and assuming the posture of a champion!

And, here’s a little more on that:


“Tougher physically also means better acting with the body. As you learned in Chapter 3, great competitors are great actors. Because the connection between the way you feel and the way you act is so powerful, I often refer to the following concept as the First Rule of Toughness. Here it is:



It’s so important to understand the communication process between emotions and the muscles of your body. When you’re angry, sad, or fearful the muscles of your face, shoulders, arms, and legs become stimulated in emotion-specific ways. You immediately start looking the way you feel: angry, sad, or afraid.

Unless, of course, you’re a great competitor and it’s competition time. Great competitors have learned to reverse the stimulation process. To achieve this feat, which is essential to their competitive success, they use the same transmission channels that consistent losers use.

However, rather than allowing their emotions to stimulate their muscles in the losing way, they use their muscles to stimulate the emotions they want to feel in the winning way. The key can be stated in just nine words:



This is Big.

First, know that the First Rule of Toughness applies to ALL (!!!) of us.

And, let’s remember these two keys: 1. Project on the outside the way you want to feel on the inside. + 2. The link between emotions and muscles runs both ways.

David Reynolds echoes this wisdom in Constructive Living . Here’s how he puts it:

“Undisciplined, sloppy thinking, visualizing, and behavior completely undermine IPS control.

“Depression can be created by sitting slouched in a chair, shoulders hunched, head hanging down. Repeat these words over and over: ‘There’s nothing anybody can do. No one can help. I’m helpless. I give up.’ Shake your head, sigh, cry. In general, act depressed and the genuine feeling will follow in time… Feelings follow behavior.”

“Feelings follow behavior.” <— Got it!

Remember: Move the way you want to feel!!!


“Being tough mentally means that you have acquired skills in thinking, believing, and visualization that enable you to:

  • Readily access empowering emotions during competition
  • Quickly change from a negative emotional state to a positive one
  • Cope emotionally with mistakes and failures
  • Trigger an Ideal Performance State at will
  • Cope with crisis and adversity.

Mental toughness means that under the pressure of competition you can continue to think constructively, nondefensively, positively, and realistically—and do it with calm clarity.”

Loehr has a chapter all about getting tough mentally.

He describes the physical stuff we just discussed as “outside-in” and the mental goodness in this chapter as “inside-out.” We need both—acting tough and thinking tough.

He walks us through 17 strategies for getting tougher mentally. I underlined/highlighted/marked up pretty much the whole chapter. Here’s a super quick look at the strategies:

  1. “Change your thinking to change the way you feel.
  1. Change the picture if you don’t like the feeling.
  1. Take full responsibility for what you think and how you think.
  2. Practice positive thinking constantly. (<—Note emphasis on “constantly” 🙂
  3. Never think or say ‘I can’t’; never think or say ‘I hate.’
  4. Think empowering thoughts.
  5. Think humorously to break up negative emotions.
  6. Think more energetically.
  7. Learn to keep a here-and-now focus during competition.
  8. During critical moments of execution, focus your attention outside yourself.
  9. Practice strategic visualization constantly. (<—Note emphasis on “constantly” 🙂
  10. Be more disciplined in the way you think about your mistakes.
  11. Be clear why it’s important to fight. Before the battle begins, make the commitment.
  12. Use adversity to get stronger.
  13. Constantly remind yourself to love the battle. (<—Note emphasis on “constantly” 🙂
  14. Use positive brainwashing to break negative mental habits.
  15. Focus on ‘Just for today.'”


“Center your strategic plan around performance goals rather than outcome goals.

Performance goals are goals you control absolutely, like doing 200 curl ups or practicing relaxation skills for ten minutes daily. Outcome goals are goals you don’t control absolutely, like winning the tournament, making a particular ranking, or scoring a certain number of points.

Outcome goals can backfire. Invest your energy in things you can control and the rest will happen automatically.

  • Dream big in the long run; think realistically in the short run.
  • It all begins with a dream for the future, and it all happens with what you do today.”

Performance goals vs. outcome goals.

Where does Loehr tell us to focus? On the performance goals, of course—defined as goals we can control ABSOLUTELY. How many minutes you exercise or meditate, hours you sleep, sales calls you make, quality time you spend with your kids or spouse, etc.

Yesterday I read on the Note for The Slight Edge where Jeff Olson echoed this wisdom and shared this gem from Hall of Fame baseball pitcher, Tom Seaver: “In baseball, my theory is to strive for consistency, not to worry about the numbers. If you dwell on statistics you get shortsighted; if you aim for consistency, the numbers will be there at the end.”

Where are YOU focused? How can you dial that in a bit more?!

Here’s to dreaming big in the long run, thinking realistically in the short run and remembering to connect our big dreams for the future with what we’re doing TODAY!


Let’s Keep Optimizing and see you at the top where there’s enough room for everyone 🙂


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4 comments on ““The New Toughness Training for Sports” By James E. Loehr

  1. Pingback: IN CHARGE: Finding The Leader Within You By Dr. Myles Munroe (Part I) | Vincent Wambua

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