Date Published: February 23, 2018
Publisher: Public Library of Science
Author(s): Joanna S. Zeiger, Robert S. Zeiger, Mark A. Chen.
Mental toughness in endurance athletes, while an important factor for success, has been scarcely studied. An online survey was used to examine eight mental toughness factors in endurance athletes. The study aim was to determine mental toughness profiles via latent profile analysis in endurance athletes and whether associations exist between the latent profiles and demographics and sports characteristics. Endurance athletes >18 years of age were recruited via social media outlets (n = 1245, 53% female). Mental toughness was measured using the Sports Mental Toughness Questionnaire (SMTQ), Psychological Performance Inventory-Alternative (PPI-A), and self-esteem was measured using the Rosenberg Self-Esteem Scale (RSE). A three-class solution emerged, designated as high mental toughness (High MT), moderate mental toughness (Moderate MT) and low mental toughness (Low MT). ANOVA tests showed significant differences between all three classes on all 8 factors derived from the SMTQ, PPI-A and the RSE. There was an increased odds of being in the High MT class compared to the Low MT class for males (OR = 1.99; 95% CI, 1.39, 2.83; P<0.001), athletes who were over 55 compared to those who were 18–34 (OR = 2.52; 95% CI, 1.37, 4.62; P<0.01), high sports satisfaction (OR = 8.17; 95% CI, 5.63, 11.87; P<0.001), and high division placement (OR = 2.18; 95% CI, 1.46,3.26; P<0.001). The data showed that mental toughness latent profiles exist in endurance athletes. High MT is associated with demographics and sports characteristics. Mental toughness screening in athletes may help direct practitioners with mental skills training.
Understanding the psychological underpinnings of mental toughness (MT) in endurance athletes is an important issue because training physical attributes within an athlete is finite (i.e. overtraining can lead to injuries, burnout, or performance decrements) [1,2] while detecting and training weaknesses in MT have no such limitations [3,4]. Because athletes represent a high risk population for mental health problems which can impact performance and well-being , identifying MT factors that may be underlying such problems can guide early interventions. Indeed, higher levels of MT cross-over from success in sports to parameters of improved sleep quality , higher life control and interpersonal confidence , high levels of subjective and objective performance  and a healthier lifestyle ; it has been suggested that individuals with higher MT exhibit greater emotional control which then leads to better lifestyle choices . “Specifically, individuals with higher levels of MT are less likely to believe that the demands imposed by a given situation exceed their available coping resources.”
We examined whether there are identifiable MT latent classes in athletes who participate in endurance sports and if the MT profiles are associated with demographics, sports characteristics, satisfaction with race results, and division placement. Eight factors from three measurement tools were used to improve both statistical power and clinical utility. Three classes emerged that corresponded to High, Medium, and Low MT based on mean scores for the eight measured factors. Multivariable analysis indicated that males, older athletes, high-ranking division placement, and high levels of race satisfaction all predicted membership into the High MT class as compared to the Low MT class.