Keys to the Mind of an Elite Pole Vaulter: An Investigation of Psychological Skills and Mental Toughness
Athletes at any level of competition face high-stress environments in which they are still expected to perform at a high level. Because of this, athletes require mental toughness in order to skillfully perform and hopefully outperform their opponents. Mental toughness in sport is a term used to describe a variety of psychological skills that an athlete utilizes that allows them to perform better and more consistently than their competitors. This study was designed to determine whether mental toughness distinguished pole vaulters at three different levels of competition. It was hypothesized that post-collegiate athletes would have higher mental toughness scores than collegiate athletes who would subsequently score higher than high school athletes. Two questionnaires were given to high school, collegiate, and post-collegiate pole vaulters (n = 65) to determine total mental toughness scores as well as scores for eight different subcategories of mental toughness including motivation, self-belief, intensity, focus, control, coping, thriving on pressure, and assertiveness. ANOVA and multiple comparisons demonstrated that mental toughness differentiated post-collegiate pole vaulters from high school pole vaulters, but not between collegiate and post-collegiate. Additionally, collegiate and post-collegiate vaulters scored significantly higher than high school vaulters in the subcategories of motivation and control. Data also showed that male competitors demonstrated significantly higher mental toughness scores than female athletes on both questionnaires. Based on the research, knowing that mental toughness scores differentiate high school pole vaulters from elite pole vaulters (particularly in the areas of control and motivation) could set the foundation for training programs and targeted psychological interventions for younger athletes.