Developing a ‘Clarity of Mind’: Exploring A Behaviour-Based Approach to Mental Toughness Development in International Youth Football

Alan McKay*, Brendan Cropley, David Shearer, Sheldon Hanton

*Corresponding author for this work

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Mentally tough behaviours (MTbs) entail verbal or physical acts that allow athletes to engage their capacity to produce consistently high performances under pressure. However, researchers of mental toughness (MT) have typically focused on the characteristics that make an athlete mentally tough, rather than how these characteristics are developed through learning to, and reflecting on, the display of MTbs. Consequently, we explored the athlete MT development process within youth international football. Collaborating with a Union of European Football Associations (UEFA) National Association, age-group international players (n = 6), coaches (n = 6), support staff (n = 7), and parents (n = 6) were interviewed regarding MTbs, the specific contexts (e.g., training) that require MTbs, and how key personnel (e.g., coaches, parents, teammates) might help develop players’ MTbs in international youth football. Using thematic analysis, we found MT development to be a relational, multidimensional process, where players transacted with individuals (e.g., coaches) in their environment. These individuals’ behaviours (e.g., autonomy-supportive) influenced players’ propensity to engage in and reflect on contextually relevant MTbs, leading to MT understanding, development, and maintenance. We suggest organisations develop a common understanding of the MT development process and educate all relevant stakeholders regarding their role in supporting athletes to develop the capacity to perform consistently under pressure.
Original languageEnglish
Article number2286951
Number of pages25
JournalJournal of Applied Sport Psychology
Issue number00
Early online date6 Dec 2023
Publication statusE-pub ahead of print - 6 Dec 2023


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