Image Of A Female Athlete Practicing Mental Toughness Training To Develop Mental Toughness In Sport

Using the GES Model to Develop Mental Toughness in Sport

BY Justin Ross

Self-control is just one piece of the psychology puzzle. Here’s what athletes should know to improve their mental toughness.

How do you handle moments of uncertainty as an athlete, and how does this impact your performance? According to a recent study published in the International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, the answer largely depends on your ability to deploy Mental Toughness (MT). 

The GES Model of Mental Toughness in Sport

In order to understand how certain factors influence an athlete’s decision-making abilities and, ultimately, their performance, the Canadian research team purposefully cut off access to the athlete’s data screen during a training session. More specifically, this research team wanted to better understand the Goal-Expectancy-Self-Control Model (GES) of Mental Toughness, which is comprised of three core components, including:

  1. Challenging Goals: goals that are individually meaningful and connected to pushing your own limits
  2. Self-Efficacy: the underlying beliefs you have in your skill execution in the present moment as well as your ability to be successful in reaching your goals
  3. Self-Control: your ability to withstand fatigue and resist unhelpful impulses while also influencing your thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in a goal-directed manner


Under this framework, MT is considered to be a psychological resource and set of skills that can be utilized specifically in moments in which pursuing a personally meaningful challenge becomes even more difficult. In this research study, cutting off access to displayed data at the midpoint of a challenging task was the difficulty multiplier. In a real-world application, this challenge occurs when you start to fatigue during a training session, or when you start to slip off your desired pace in a meaningful workout or race situation. 

Expectancy (Self-Efficacy)

When facing such adversity, one of the first principles you will likely default to is your underlying belief system. Better known as Self-Efficacy, this set of beliefs targets your in-the-moment ability to keep moving forward paired with your sense of how successful you think you can be. The question Can I do this?, therefore, is filtered through your past experiences of dealing with pressure and hardship in an effort to be reminded of two things: (first) execute your skills so that (second) you are put in the most likely position to see your goals achieved. 

Self-Efficacy is built in a number of ways, with your own personal history being one of the most influential factors. This is why consistently doing hard things in training helps build your mental muscle of MT. Your emotional state is critically important here, too. How you emotionally regulate through a moment of frustration, anger, or doubt is critical in what happens next.


After Self-Efficacy kicks in during a moment of uncertainty, you will then have to resist the urge to stop. For the athletes in this research experiment, the nature of not knowing if any of the session’s data would be recorded — or if the effort would count towards their expressed goals — lead to mounting thoughts of doubt about the point (or pointlessness) of continuing. 

This is when Self-Control comes into play. You’ll need to grab hold of your mind to establish helpful thoughts, continue to regulate your emotions, and behaviorally keep your effort level on track. Facing doubt and discomfort will inevitably happen at some point for you during your training block in preparation for a key event, and you’ll be faced with a very similar set of circumstances. The question is, how will you show up? What mental skills, self-talk, and attentional control strategies can you develop to help you be successful when moments like this occur in training and racing?

Mental Toughness Training 101

While the above might sound esoteric, there are some compelling takeaways that you can immediately put into action to develop mental toughness in sport. The beauty of the mind is that, like the body, it is 100% trainable.

First, you have to be clear about your own definition of MT. What does MT mean to you? This could mean the ability to push through a tough hill workout or to stay at your target pace when other competitors are coming hot out of the gate. How do you know when you’re training from a mentally-tough framework?

Second, you have to start training your mental toughness. Doing hard things is one aspect of development, but it’s not quite enough. You have to consistently set challenging goals and be clear about your self-talk, attentional control strategies, and self-efficacy beliefs while doing hard things. If you regularly step into a hard workout or challenging set with your mind full of doubt, recounting previous times in which you fell short, and with self-talk of uncertainty, you can start there. 

Finally, how do you put your workouts away? This may seem like a strange question. Self-efficacy beliefs are built based on your past experiences. Every time you hit stop on your watch or bike computer or finish a set in the pool, you have a critical moment to capture in your mind not only what you just completed but also the attitude in how you showed up. Some version of, “You really stayed disciplined and focused your attention in those latter reps when it was really hard. You believed you could see the workout all the way through, and your positive mantras reminding you of your strength really helped.” This only takes a few moments, and can be done as you head into the next part of your day, but is an important step in your mental skills development. Doing this on a regular basis strengthens that MT voice, making it more readily accessible when you really need it.

The First Mental Toughness Training Plan

Just like a training plan takes the guesswork out of your workouts, a mental toughness training plan can guide you to stronger psychological performance more quickly than going at it alone. This first-of-its-kind high-performance psychology training plan in TrainingPeaks covers all the necessary components of building MT plus much, much more. It’s 12 weeks long and delivers daily, actionable skills to work on your mental game simultaneously with your regular training. Built for runners, cyclist, and triathletes of all ability levels and distances, this program brings to life evidence-based practices for you to optimize your performance. 

If you’re a coach and interested in learning more about the key principles of performance psychology, check out my Introduction to Sports Psychology Course for Coaches in TrainingPeaks University.


Bédard-Thom, C. et al. (2022, December 26). Mental toughness in sport: testing the goal-expectancy-self-control (GES) model among runners and cyclists using cross-sectional and experimental designs. Retrieved from

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About Justin Ross

Dr Justin Ross is a licensed clinical psychologist specializing in human performance. He is an amateur recreational athlete who enjoys a variety of disciplines and distances, and is a 12-time marathoner (with 6 BQs), multi-time Ironman 70.3 competitor, and Leadville 100 MTB finisher. His professional career has spanned working with athletes ranging from the world-class in disciplines across all professional sports to amateurs working to optimize their performance in their own goal-related pursuits. Check out his first-of-its-kind performance psychology training plan on TrainingPeaks.

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