Mental Toughness Makes A Positive Difference

Media reports claim that prior to LSU’s recent victory over Texas in the NCAA men’s basketball tournament, LSU coach John Brady told his players they were underdogs like Buster Douglas and that Texas was the overwhelming favorite like Mike Tyson. The coach then pointed out that Douglas knocked out Tyson in 1990 in one of the great upsets in boxing history.
Most people who are old enough to remember the boxing match probably don’t, and younger people more than likely have never heard of Buster Douglas. So, since I was interested in the fact that Coach Brady used this particular analogy, I want to open my A Strategy For Winning book to pages 37-38 and share the account I used in illustrating the importance of being mentally tough:
James “Buster” Douglas went from being just another boxer to heavyweight champion on February 11, 1990. It was a shocking upset when he defeated Mike Tyson. It was shocking because those close to Douglas claimed he never before demonstrated a strong passion for boxing. More than once, his management team complained that he just didn’t have his heart in it. He had lost matches he should have won. People talked about his potential, but they also talked about his not being mentally tough. And because of his lack of mental toughness, observers said he never reached the physical toughness of which he was capable.
That changed as he began to prepare for the bout with Tyson. He caught a vision of the boxer he could become. He began to believe in himself and to believe that he could, indeed, become heavyweight champion. His mental toughness grew as he studied videotapes of Tyson in action, picking out the defending champion’s weaknesses and determining how he could use his own strengths to meet Tyson’s weaknesses head on.
With a new enthusiasm, he began to work himself into the best physical condition he had ever experienced and his confidence increased. Where previous challengers might have seen an invulnerable champion, Douglas saw a boxer with glaring flaws. He and his management team devised a specific battle plan and Douglas knew he could make it happen. At the site of the bout in Tokyo, he executed the plan perfectly. When asked about the tremendous upset, Douglas’ manager John Johnson said, “I had never seen him so confident and so focused.”
Immediately following the Buster Douglas account in A Strategy For Winning, I then tell about the great Boston Celtics basketball player Larry Bird. People said he was not fast, was not strong, and could not jump. Yet, experts and fans alike still consider him one of the greatest players who ever put on a uniform. What made him great? Coaches, teammates, and opponents always claimed that it was his determination, his will power – the mental attitude that he took into each practice and each game.
And there are many other well-known athletes whose mental toughness helps them win over physically superior opponents. These successes support the fact that sports experts are finding more and more evidence that being a real winner may well have more to do with what’s inside an athlete’s head than with his or her physical ability. We can learn a great deal from such athletes and apply their winning principles not only to our own athletic endeavors but also to our lives as professionals, entrepreneurs, students, and family members.
Carl Mays, author of over a dozen books and speaker at over 3,000 events, can be contacted at 865-436-7478 or His books, including A Strategy For Winning, People of Passion, Anatomy Of A Leader, Are We Communicating Yet? and Winning Thoughts, are available in stores, on and

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