Brendan Fowler, MLL All-Star and 2x NCAA national champion, who began his career as a walk-on football and lacrosse player at Duke, scored a 99 on the TAP for Mental Toughness, a combination of traits that are not just personality but include habits, attitude and mindset. We asked him about mental toughness and how that made a difference for him.
What happened when you took the TAP and saw your results?
“I thought it was cool. The test was pretty in depth and it compares you to elite athletes. But I do pride myself on mental toughness, which has been an edge for me over a lot of guys because I never thought I was the most gifted guy physically but I thought I had a mental edge over a lot of people. It was cool to see that come up on the test in terms of the numbers (on the dials).”
Was there anything in particular in your TAP report that stood out for you?
“It talked about how to coach me. I had never thought about that myself, but I read it and thought, yeah, I do kind of like that coaching style. It made me realize things that I already knew about myself, it quantified it and I thought yeah, that really is true, it put it into words even though I would have never thought of it. When I first took it I shared with my girlfriend at the time and my mom, and they were like “spot on, no doubt that’s who you are.”
Did you feel different growing up?
“I had some good coaches when I was younger to help with the mental toughness side. Two really stick out: first was my dad, coaching me in football until I was 13. Practices were tough. I remember he always worked us really hard, we were always gassed during practice, that’s how it was from the first time I played sports. In eighth grade I wrestled varsity. Coach Murphy was the toughest coach I ever had, you think you are going to die in practice half the time. Those two coaches taught me to work really hard, and you had to show up to work hard every day, not just a hard practice once in a while.”
You walked on to football and lacrosse at Duke?
“I did, yes.”
How did that happen?
“I remember going through the recruiting process and was recruited by some lacrosse schools. But I always wanted to play football growing up. My dad played football at Villanova and that was what I wanted to do since I was five. But I got recruited for lacrosse by some schools and at the last minute Duke called about football but they didn’t have any scholarship money. So I thought I would just go to Villanova. But I always want to play at that big time Division 1 level. My senior year in high school was my best year in lacrosse. At Duke I played football and lacrosse, which was hard. You come in as a walk on guy and you are definitely below the scholarship players, so it was a year and a half of hard work, extra runs, you have to prove yourself.
“The way I start exercising mentally is to do a physical workout that is really tough and try to push through it mentally. Once I hit a time I have to beat, I push harder the next time. Another thing I like to do is a little visualization before I play -– the night before or day of the game, I picture scenarios and think about how the game could go.”
So you attribute your success to your mental toughness. What would you say to other athletes who want to play at the elite level?
“For me I think it’s almost more important than the physical aspect. If you run a 5.0 (40 yd dash) as a senior in high school, you’re not going to run a 4.30. It’s just not going to happen. You might get a growth spurt but some point you kind of hit where you are athletically. If you ever asked anyone, I don’t think they would say Brendan Fowler is super-gifted – not that I wasn’t athletic – but for certain wasn’t the fastest on the teams I played on. I just think the mental edge always helped me work a little harder, put in a little more. Having that mental (toughness)side, you can take your game so much further than your squat went up five pounds or your bench went up five pounds. If you can change your mental aspect, it is way more worth investing on the mental side than (just) the physical side.”
If you were teaching someone about mental toughness or were trying to change a team, what advice would you give them?
“I do coach lacrosse right now and do face-off clinics here in southern Cal. Mental toughness has always been a muscle for me. If I don’t push myself and get outside my comfort zone for a while, I can feel that. Mental toughness is something that you always need to work on and stay on top of. Whether you are the toughest guy on the team or the least toughest, you can definitely grow and get better from where you are at currently.
“But you need to be open. The only way you can grow mentally is to push yourself outside your comfort zone. When you start to run sprints, and you reach that cusp where you are starting to get tired, you can easily start to coast or you can try to win it. You have think “I’m going to push myself to my limits and dominate this.” That’s the point where you can work that (mental toughness) muscle. The more you work it, the stronger it gets. And then eventually it becomes a habit.”
We understand you are starting to use the TAP assessment as a coach
“I’m pretty excited about it. I’m going to be implementing it with my athletes and the players I in my clinic. I have them take the test before I see them and send it to our head coach. I think it is a really cool tool.”