Interview with Dr. Robert Troutwine, the chief psychologist at The Right Profile, who tests elite athletes for their Mental Toughness.
Dr. Troutwine, you’ve been testing elite athletes for 30 years. What are you looking for in a player?
“The real question I drive at is: Can this player take their game to the next level? With the evidence that we collect in the TAP, we feel very confident that we can ascertain that. Remember, at all levels – pro, college and high school – scouts and coaches are looking at the physical qualities of the players. Some of these players are at the top in terms of their physical skills. They can run, jump, bench press the world, but the last thing, the unknown, is the mental side.
“Do they have weaknesses that hold them back or the opposite, in the pros are they a late round pick that is a diamond in the rough with the ability to really develop? Maybe their physical skills are just ok but their heart is bigger than Africa. That’s important. You know the top draft picks are going to play but what exactly is going to hold them back or what is going to make them an overachiever?”
This year you’ve developed a Mental Toughness Bootcamp that players can go through online that is a follow-on to your TAP test. Why do players need it?
“Mental toughness doesn’t come naturally to anyone. By and large it is all learned behavior. Most people, including players, aren’t exposed to it in their upbringing. Now these new generations, where everyone gets a ribbon to build self esteem, are not like, for example, the generation that fought in WWII, when the entire country, not just the soldiers, learned to be mentally tough.
“My point is, mental toughness is not something you learn vicariously. You have to go through it yourself and it is a learning process.”
So your Mental Toughness Bootcamp is a particular sequence of activities?
“The sequence can vary a little bit, but the prescription, if you will, includes seven key components, some that are sensitive to order, most of them can be done concurrently. They are: Confidence, Motivation, Overcoming Adversity, Resilience, Locus of Control, Grit, and Daily Habits. These are based on my own research and looking at what the military is doing to make soldiers combat tough.
“I’ve personally done testing with Navy SEAL teams so I have solid benchmarks in my profile test in terms of measuring mental toughness. Lastly, Martin Seligman’s research at the University of Pennsylvania on positive psychology and on resiliency and grit, and his work with the military, is incorporated as well.”
You say this is not like brain training apps. What’s the difference?
“It’s not brain training because brain training is all cognitive, for example, memory and recognition. The Mental Toughness Bootcamp goes way beyond that by shaping attitudes and emotions. We are not asking athletes to play video games. We are engaging the athlete with some pretty profound questions and soul searching, then they learn and respond through exercises and reps of those exercises, just like a regular gym, shaping habits.”
How long does it take someone to complete the Mental Toughness Bootcamp?
“How long? One player might revisit a workout 3 or 4 times as they realize that , hey, the workout can really change me. Another could blast through it in 6 weeks but he or she might not get as much out of it.”
In the TAP reports for athletes, coaches and even parents, you use dials to show the results of the profile and the state of the athlete. For mental toughness, is it all about getting the dial to green or just to move the needle?
The goal is to move the needle from red to yellow to green. In each workout we have questions that come up after each exercise. You can see change in the key questions within the workout, and every 90 days you can retake the TAP and see the dials change as you improve your overall mindset. It is a very objective way to gauge your progress. If you are at the elite or pro level and are working with a mental skills coach, they can see the efficacy of their intervention by comparing the test/retest.
The idea is to turn reps into habits. Through this activity, you are developing habits that can carry you forward, whether it’s mental toughness, coachability, or mental performance. The definition of learning in any psychology textbook is a permanent change in behavior and that is exactly what we are striving for with each athlete.
The TAP measures performance traits. What is the difference between personality traits and performance traits?
Performance traits include non-personality variables like attitudes. For example, does the player feel like life is unfair?. Attitudes can predict behavior. So can the mental scales and behavioral indicators we measure: how the athlete best learns, if a player blows up after a bad call on the field, that is a behavioral indicator. How they react to a frustration during competition, how an athlete responds to a coach’s criticism, those are driven by behavioral indicators. Some of those indicators might be self esteem (thick vs thin skin), how players view authority and rules, and whether they will respond negatively to criticism.
These are all part of the TAP assessment and the questions we ask have been revised over 30 years of testing to predict behavior in the most accurate way possible. Now, with the Mental Toughness Bootcamp, part of the Mental Gym, we are introducing a way to permanently modify that behavior.
Your TAP test is online and any player at any level can take it. What would you say to coaches of younger players who want to bring mental toughness into their game plan?
First of all, I’ve worked all of my career at the pro level. If I personally review a pro player’s results or my answers are put together by the software we’ve developed, there is less than a one point difference in the two, so I feel very confident in the online test results and reports. That is why we are making this available to younger athletes at the college level, in high schools and even middle school for those at least 13 years old. At this level it is more about player development and getting the most out of their athletic experience.
What will happen if we take a 13 year old through the Mental Toughness Bootcamp and what happens then when they are 17 and are already applying that mental toughness training on the field? We are helping athletes become mentally tough during their most developmental years. I’m very optimistic this is going to be a new dawn.