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This describes the extent to which young people feel they are in control of their lives and their work. This is where the sense of “can do” sits. If you ask a person who scores highly on this scale to do something which may be out of their comfort zone then their default response would typically be “Give it to me. I can do it”. They are more likely to volunteer and more likely to be prepared to handle several things at once.

Young people at the other end of the scale are likely to hold back, to prefer to do one thing at a time and are likely to show (e.g., dismay and discomfort) what they feel to others.

Research has shown that there are two subscales here:

(Emotional) control—Individuals scoring highly on this scale are better able to manage their emotions. They are able to keep anxieties
in check and are less likely to reveal their emotional state to other people sometimes revealing only what they want to show.

Life control (sometimes called self-efficacy)—Individuals scoring higher on this scale are more likely to believe that they control their lives. They feel that their plans will not be thwarted by outside factors and that they can make a difference.


Sometimes described as “stickability”, this describes the ability for an individual to carry out tasks successfully despite any problems or obstacles that arise whilst achieving the goal. It has two elements. One is the extent to which the young person is goal orientated. This is about the extent to which they will make promises, to themselves and to others. The other element is the extent to which they do what it takes to keep that promise. One implication is that a mentally tough young person will often be naturally hard working. They are also likely to persevere with difficult tasks. Someone with a low commitment score would avoid making promises and shy away from anything that carries a sense of measurement.

Mental toughness is often mistaken for resilience. Resilience is often defined as a function of control and commitment. Resilience represents the ability to deal with an adverse situation and still complete some or all of what you had set out to do. It is to some extent a passive quality. A resilient person won't necessarily be positive about it.

Mental toughness broadens this concept by adding two more components—Challenge and Confidence. This introduces a more proactive element.


This describes the extent to which individuals see problems, setbacks, and challenges as opportunities. Those who see them as opportunities will actively seek them out and will identify problems as ways for selfdevelopment. Those at the other end of the scale see problems as threats. It determines to some extent how young persons deal with change and with new situations. It emerges as a significant factor in transition in education.

Confidence (self belief or self-esteem)

This assesses the extent to which individuals believe they have the capability to do what they need to do. On its own that is not enough either. Confident individuals must also be able to stand their ground when needed and have the confidence to present their views and ideas to others.

Individuals who are high in confidence have the self belief to successfully complete tasks, which may be considered too difficult by individuals with similar abilities but with lower confidence. They may also allow themselves to be talked out of doing something. Less confident individuals are also likely to be less persistent and to make more errors.

Confident young people are better able to deal with setbacks and mistakes. These don't disrupt their sense of self-confidence.

Again research show there are two sub-scales here.

Confidence (in abilities)—Individuals scoring highly on this scale are more likely to believe that they are worthwhile and capable. They are less dependent on external validation and tend to be more optimistic about life in general.

Interpersonal confidence—Individuals scoring highly on this scale tend to be less likely to be intimidated in social settings and are more likely to push themselves forward in groups. They are also better able to cope with difficult or awkward people. They will also respond more fully to examine questions and in completing assignments.

Each of these will be examined in much greater detail later in this book.

There is an important point to be made here. We find that confidence is the most misdiagnosed factor. People who work with young people will often observe negative behaviour and underperformance and attribute that to the young person's confidence (or lack of it). Close examination shows that in many cases this is wrong and in fact it's one of the other mental toughness factors at play. In which case the wrong interventions are chosen which have no impact and sometimes make a situation worse. The four C's—a summary

If a mentally tough individual was asked to do something that most people saw as challenging, their default response would be to do it and these would be the thoughts that would typically be running through their heads

Control – I really believe I can do it

– I can keep my emotions in check when doing it

Commitment – I promise to do it

– I'll do what it takes to deliver it (hard work)

Challenge – I am motivated to do it—I can see the benefit

– Setbacks make me stronger

Confidence – I believe I have the ability to do it

– I can stand my ground if I need to

Together these give rise to a picture of mental toughness.

Finally, mental toughness is not a new concept. It is known by many names and is nearly always poorly defined. We have already seen that it is commonly confused with resilience. Other incarnations include mindset. If you look at the excellent work of Carol Dweck (2012) you will see that she has identified two poles for mindset—a fixed mindset and a flexible mindset. These equate to mental sensitivity and mental toughness. The same applies to the work of Seligman (2006), who writes of learned optimism and learned helplessness in the development of young people. The ideas overlap. Similarly with terms such as character, attitude, and tenacity, they all describe mental toughness or an aspect of mental toughness.

Some may not like the term but it is the correct term for what we are describing here. Coined originally by Loehr in 1983 he defined it as the ability to consistently perform towards the upper range of your talent and skill regardless of competitive circumstances. Although focused on the athlete it is still a definition we like. It essentially says that mental toughness is a significant factor in becoming the best that each of us can be. Surely one of the goals for those involved in developing young people.

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