Mental toughness isn’t necessarily something you’re born with — it has to be built.
I caught up with Seattle Seahawk Justin Britt to talk about what it takes to be an NFL player.
Just last year, Britt was celebrating a Cotton Bowl victory with the Mizzou Tigers. A year later, he was in the Super Bowl. Quite an accomplishment for a humble guy from the small Midwestern town of Lebanon, Missouri.
When it comes to playing in college, and then for a highly respected team in the NFL, talent alone is not enough. Most successful players will credit strong work ethic, learning playbooks and athleticism on and off the field.
But for Justin Britt, success in playing professional football stems from having exceptional mental toughness.
Britt attributes three things to helping him develop the inner fortitude that has gotten him where he is today.
1. Becoming A Competitive Individual
Even though Britt has followed a career in team sports, the mental toughness he has developed didn’t originate from the camaraderie. It came from learning how to be a competitor on his own terms.
As important as playing a team sport was in his growth as a person, many of the skills that served him well as an MU player and a NFL player came from learning how to step up for himself during his high school wrestling days.
For better or for worse, whether he won or lost, it was on him when he was wrestling. “Being responsible for my own successes and failures taught me a lot about character, discipline and perseverance,” Britt said. “For a young man trying to find myself and discover who I wanted to be, that accountability made all the difference.”
2. Committing To A Family
It didn’t stop at football and wrestling. From baseball to track, Britt has been involved in sports his whole life. He is and always has been an athlete at his core. Britt couldn’t have pursued sports with as much intensity as he did, though, without the unwavering support of his parents.
“They went to every high school football game, and my dad drove in from a different town every Friday night to see me play,” Britt said. “They came to every home game during my time at Mizzou and to the majority of my away games, too. They saw my first pre-season game with the Seahawks in Denver, and they came to six more games this season, including the Super Bowl.”
To follow his passion for athletics, there were things Britt had to give up. “I didn’t have much time for a social life growing up, but that was OK with me because even though that meant that my childhood didn’t look like the ones most people have, I had my parents to support me,” Britt said.
Britt’s parents played a big role in helping him foster mental fortitude — knowing they’d always be there for him gave him the ability to go after what he wanted. “I’m grateful that they have been involved in my career every step of the way,” he said. “Having people to back you is one of the most important things in life.”
These days, Britt has two more players on his off-the-field team: his wife, Alicia, and his 2-year-old daughter, Navy.
3. Training Under A Strong Mentor
Britt attributes much of the strength he has today with the Mizzou Football program, where he spent his college career:
“[Mizzou head] coach [Gary] Pinkel taught me a lot, but the mental toughness he helped me build really prepared me for the NFL,” he said.
A few words of wisdom from Pinkel that have made a difference in Britt’s head game:
- Decision: You decide whether you let distractions take away from your performance. You can choose to dwell on them or let them go.
- Attitude: You can find a way over, around or through most obstacles by committing yourself to remain positive. Negative reaction takes a lot of energy and lowers your resistance.
- Commitment: Personal excellence is largely a question of believing in your own capabilities and fully committing yourself to your own development.
- Focus: Focus most of your energy on the little steps within your control. Goals that require things beyond your control sets you up for frustration and anxiety.
- Vision: Your mental imagery leads to reality. It strengthens confidence by calling up the feeling of best performance.
Another piece of advice Pinkel used to tell his team?
“Treat every game equally.”
This wouldn’t be the last time Britt heard this. Seattle Seahawks head coach Pete Carroll relayed this idea to his team all season, even before the most pivotal moment of the year, Super Bowl XLIX.:
“I’ve been taught to treat every game like a championship game, so surprisingly, my nerves didn’t get the best of me before the Super Bowl. Half time was longer, and the game took more time to start, but it was still just another game.”
Although the matchup against the Patriots didn’t turn out the way Britt and his teammates wanted it to, “We’ll be back again soon,” he said. Part of his confidence comes from the mental toughness he’s built, and as an athlete, that can be the biggest advantage.
Photo Credit: Justin Britt, Seahawks
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