Top Ten Ways to Stay Motivated and Build Mental Toughness

Recruiting Station Charleston Marines complete a set of barbell presses alongside a member of the Capital University women’s basketball team in Columbus, Ohio, as part of a leadership seminar.
Recruiting Station Charleston Marines complete a set of barbell presses alongside a member of the Capital University women’s basketball team in Columbus, Ohio, as part of a leadership seminar on Sept. 21, 2014. (Sgt. Tyler Hlavac/U.S. Marine Corps photo)

Most high school and college athletes are pretty motivated but need guidance on how to get to a new level of fitness and athleticism. From offseason growth and speed workouts to in-season maintenance plans, there are different programs from which to choose, and it all depends on your goals and current fitness level. The difference in excelling during the offseason is your own self-motivation and the question is, "Are you a wannabe or a gonna-be?"

1. Get your workout over with. Before any commitments, work out either in the early morning before school or immediately after school. Write it down in your calendar, because if your workout is not in your schedule, it does not exist.

2. Jam out. Have recorded music to wake you up before your workout, or one of my favorites was a tape-recorded message from myself and it said, "Hey -- get your lazy butt up and into the gym -- now."

3. Name it and tame it. Write down your goal and put it up in your bedroom, inside your locker, on a school folder or make a poster of it. Look at this every day.

4. Performance cue. Create buzz words before, during and after your workouts that pump you up to perform at your best. This sports psychology tool is used by professional athletes every day. Some ideas are:  "Game on," "let's roll," "compete," "gonna-be" and "work hard." Remember one of the best athletic performances you have ever had. Give it a name and get yourself back into that moment.

5. Even when you do not feel like exercising, do it. Another thing you will develop when you start to train hard is the confidence in yourself. You will sharpen your mental toughness by pushing your fitness levels each week. There's no need to push through serious illness, but when you start to push through the "don't feel like it" line, you build mental toughness that day.

6. Have a workout partner. You have to be motivated, and when you are motivated to work out, you lead by example to your partner. One day, they will do it for you when you need it the most.

7. Know what work is. When you truly are motivated to excel in a sport, you will do whatever in your power to prepare yourself. Otherwise you are just playing games.

8. Understanding fitness.- Once you understand that fitness, flexibility, speed, agility, strength and power are all components of performing at your best, it is easier to stay motivated to work out and build the foundation needed to prevent injuries and stay in the game.

9. Change it up. Don't do the same workout week after week. You will get bored with it, and your body will stop responding to it as before. Change up the workout by adding weights, calisthenics, new exercises and new cardio options over 2-3 weeks.

10. Never let go of a dream. Not all people can play sports, and often it is the effort you put in off the field that will enhance your game enough to make the team. Ask any coach whether they would rather have a group of hard-working players with heart or a group of talented players with little heart. Hard work wins every time.

Stew Smith is a former Navy SEAL and fitness author certified as a Strength and Conditioning Specialist (CSCS) with the National Strength and Conditioning Association. Visit his Fitness eBook store if you're looking to start a workout program to create a healthy lifestyle. Send your fitness questions to

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