Why mental resilience is so important in your team and how the best sports teams build it in theirs

High-stress environments require mental resilience as, without a few techniques, it can be easy to succumb to problems brought on by circumstance.

Elite sport has a lot to give us in this regard. Sometimes, sporting heroism is borne of stress. Equally though, game-day can bring challenges that test individuals and teams to breaking point.

The business world can be a similarly stressful place. C-Suite roles, where big decisions are made, can be tough, as can entrepreneurship where lonely toil and long hours can get on top of you. Being part of a team can also be difficult if you don’t have measures in place to deal with when things don’t go as expected.

Characteristics of Mentally Resilient Teams

The following are common to successful teams across different sports and are all applicable to the world of business.

Teams believe that they can achieve things together

Famous sporting triumphs are built on team belief, not individual capacity. When you need to make up ground, it’s true that we go further together. Teams need to retain that belief in themselves and each other. Equally, good teams guard against complacency and although they celebrate the wins, they know that there’s always room for improvement.

Success doesn’t happen in individual moments. Brilliant performances can decide games and even finals but what got the team to that point is being greater than the sum of its parts. Seasons are long in sport and timelines are longer in the world of work. Relying on individuals won’t take you where you want to go in the long term.

People know their roles and responsibilities

‘Do your job’ is the New England Patriots mantra. They’re the most successful NFL team of recent times. They have an organisational framework where everyone is crystal clear on what their role is and how they need to execute. This helps them to perform out on the field but also, it helps them to make decisions before, during and after plays.

Do your team know their roles? Do they all know how important their tasks are, even if they seem minor at first glance? Do they understand how their actions affect their colleagues both positively and potentially negatively?

Great sports teams know these things. Your team should too. Its behavioural health relies on them.

Agility breeds mental strength

Sometimes things don’t go to plan. As Mike Tyson says, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

How you roll with the punches is the important thing. Sometimes a plan needs adjusting on the fly, new information comes to light, something in the wider landscape changes, suddenly a crucial team member is unavailable.

It’s not only necessary to deal with disaster; agility is also required for when opportunity presents itself and you need to be able to seize it.

Your team needs contingencies and leaders – people who know how and when to step up and change your approach when needs be. Success in this regard will strengthen your team’s confidence.

Psychological safety

This is crucial for teams to get the most from their members. It’s the state where people know that their differences and opinions will be respected and listened to. That their ideas won’t be ridiculed and their problems won’t be ignored. Without this emotionally healthy state, it’s impossible for a team to achieve its full potential.

The ability to speak up will avert problems, bring new ideas to your strategy and encourage the sort of agile thinking that will benefit the group down the line. This is one of the most important characteristics of resilient teams.

How to build a mentally resilient team

We’ve broken this down into what to do, when – as sports teams do around matches.


Planning is key. Build out processes that everyone believes in and trust them. Clear up how you deal with changing circumstances and who to go to when they occur. Foster an environment that welcomes new ideas and diverse perspectives and doesn’t punish people for speaking their mind.


Remind everyone that they have the aptitude and the framework to deal with events. Pull everyone together and prompt action. Boost confidence and reframe circumstances as opportunities to succeed, learn and do better.


Review is so important and it needs approaching in the appropriate manner to build your team’s mental toughness. Encourage people to speak up whatever their role and outline how the group can benefit from the process. Enable the team to recognise and respond to positive and negative feedback by making swift and reasoned alterations to the status quo. Don’t get carried away with circumstance to ensure mental stability but celebrate the wins and mourn the losses together.


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