Mental Toughness and Success in Sport: A Review and Prospect

Richard Gregory Cowden*
North-West University Institute of Psychology and Well-being, South Africa

© 2017 Richard Gregory Cowden

open-access license: This is an open access article distributed under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 International Public License (CC-BY 4.0), a copy of which is available at: This license permits unrestricted use, distribution, and reproduction in any medium, provided the original author and source are credited.

* Address correspondence to this author at the North-West University, 22 Willow Manor, Ditedu Street, Potchefstroom, 2531, South Africa; Tel: +27 (0) 73 338 2709; E-mail:



Mental toughness (MT) is often referred to as one of the most important psychological attributes underpinning the success of athletes. Although selected studies have examined this common supposition, research in this area has yet to be synthesized.


The purpose of this study was to review the quantitative literature on MT, competitive standard, achievement level, and performance (competitive and non-competitive) in sport.


Searches using a specified key term were performed in 10 databases during August 2016. Following an initial screening of the unique records that were identified (N = 1025), 19 peer-reviewed articles met the eligibility criteria for inclusion in the review.


The majority of MT-competitive standard studies (N = 10) found total (66.7%) or subcomponent (71.4%) MT differences, with mentally tougher athletes participating at higher levels of competition. Of the remaining studies (N = 9), most indicated (77.8%) mentally tougher athletes tend to achieve more or perform better.


Collectively, the results point to mentally tougher athletes’ superior levels of success. The findings are discussed alongside the limitations associated with this part of the current MT in sport literature, with several important areas outlined for scholars to consider and pursue when conducting future research.

Keywords: Mental toughness, Competitive standard, Achievement, Performance, Success, Sport, Athlete.