Unfortunately many individuals and departments don’t agree with this and often don’t see the value for mental training.
One mental strength assessment I use is the MSQ48. It provides a reliable and quick assessment of a tactical athlete’s ability to withstand pressure in a range of workplace environments. It measures mental strength in terms of 4 core components.
Before we get into the components of the assessment and a case study let’s quickly look at some views on what Mental strength is.
“Mental strength is: The ability to “perform under pressure”- Tim Henman (in Coaching Excellence, 1996)
“Having complete control over your emotions . . . and controlling all situations you can control” – Greg Rusedki (in Coaching Excellence, 1996)
“The mentally strong individual has a high sense of self-belief and an unshakeable faith that they control their own destiny. Furthermore, they remain relatively unaffected by competition or adversity.” – Peter Clough
Mental strength refers to an individual’s resilience and an inner drive to succeed – particularly when the going is challenging. It explains why it is possible to place two individuals into the same environment and to see that one finds it difficult to cope with pressure and one thrives.
The mentally strong person tends to be:
- Sociable and outgoing
- Being able to remain calm and relaxed, they are competitive in many situations and have lower anxiety levels than others
- With a high sense of self-belief and an unshakeable faith that they control their own destiny, these individuals can remain relatively unaffected by competition or adversity.
The key issues around mental strength that an individual and organization/department need to understand are:
- What causes one person to succumb and another to thrive?
- Can we identify people’s strengths and weaknesses in these areas?
- Can we “toughen up” individuals to enable them to handle stressors more effectively?
- How can we support individuals better with their specific needs?
Core Components of Mental Strength Assessment
Research in the Psychology Department, at the University of Hull, under the direction of Dr. Peter Clough identified 4 key components of Mental Strength:
It’s important to understand that the assessment is used to assist individuals, specifically the tactical athlete, identify areas for improvement and to create a cohesive team.
This is done by looking at the results of the assessment and then develop a mental strength coaching program to work with the individuals to improve their mental strength.
Individuals who score high on this scale feel that they are in control of their work and of the environment in which they work. They are capable of exerting more influence on their working environment and are more confident about working in complex or multi-tasked situations.
This means for example that, at one end of the scale individuals are able to handle lots of things at the same time.
At the other end they may only be comfortable handling one thing at a time.
There are also 2 subcomponents to Control
- Control (Emotion) – Individuals scoring highly on this scale are better able to control their emotions. They are able to keep anxieties in check and are less likely to reveal their emotional state to other people.
- Control (Life) – 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 and that they can make a difference.
Challenge (Sometimes Called Change Orientation)
Describes the extent to which individuals see challenges as opportunities. Individuals who see them as opportunities will actively seek them out and will identify problems as ways for self-development.
At the other end challenges are perceived as problems and threats. So, for example, at one end of the scale we find those who thrive in continually changing environments.
At the other end we find those who prefer to minimize their exposure to change and the problems that come with that – and will strongly prefer to work in stable environments.
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.
Consequently an individual who scores at the high-end of the scale will be able to handle and achieve things to tough unyielding deadlines. Whereas an individual at the other end will need to be free from those kind of demands to achieve their goals.
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.
Less confident individuals are also likely to be less persistent and may make more errors.
For example, individuals at one end of the scale will be able to take setbacks (externally and self-generated) in their stride. They keep their heads when things go wrong and it may even strengthen their resolve to do something.
At the other end individuals will be unsettled by setbacks and will feel undermined by these. Their heads are said to “drop”.
- Confidence (Abilities) – Individuals scoring highly on this scale are more likely to believe that they are a truly worthwhile person. They are less dependent on external validation and tend to be more optimistic about life in general.
- Confidence (Interpersonal) – Individuals scoring highly on this scale tend to be more assertive. They are 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.
Mental Strength and Police Stop and Search Behavior
Police performance and behavior is of critical interest. Especially in the officers willingness to participate in stop and search activities, regardless of the risks involved in such actions.
A study a few years back assessed police officers stop and search behavior while on their beat. Stop and search responsibilities and actions are a key performance criterion for the ‘beat’ police officer.
Such actions are difficult to perform and are often carried out in difficult and dangerous settings. As such, there can be concerns that some officers may be avoiding this activity to reduce their stress levels.
The study followed 110 police officers on their beat activities. All completed the MSQ48 prior to a period of beat shifts. During shifts, officers automatically report stop and search activities, but they were also asked to record their desire to participate in such activities.
Anxiety levels were also recorded for consideration.
Relationship between the assessment and the desire and usage of stop and search
Overall Desire Overall Use Overall Anxiety
Total Mental strength 0.19* 0.24* -0.59*
Challenge 0.15 0.21* -0.53*
Commitment 0.18 0.18 -0.40*
Control 0.15 0.19* -0.51*
Confidence 0.18 0.26* -0.60*
Emotional Control 0.16 0.14 -0.29*
Life Control 0.10 0.19 -0.59*
Confidence (abilities) 0.11 0.15 -0.61*
Confidence (interpersonal) 0.22* 0.33* -0.42*
Overall Desire 0.81* -.0.15
Overall Use 0.811*
Overall Anxiety -0.11 -0.15
* Significant correlations
Firstly, it is important to note that actual use of stop and search activities were associated with an increased desire to carry them out.
In relation to mental strength: Higher levels of overall mental strength were associated with increased desire to carry out and actual use of stop and search activities, as well as reduced levels of anxiety.
Additionally, desire to stop and search was associated with high levels of interpersonal confidence.
Overall use of stop and search activities was associated with higher levels of challenge, overall control, overall confidence, and interpersonal confidence. All mental strength components were associated with lower levels of reported anxiety.
Increased mental strength is associated with increased desire to use and actual use of stop and search activities. Total mental strength and interpersonal confidence is associated with increased desire to stop and search, whereas Total mental strength, challenge, control, confidence and interpersonal confidence is associated with increased use of stop and search.
As such, mental strength seems to be a key factor in the ‘beat’ officers’ ability and willingness to perform their activities. A finding further emphasized by higher mental strength is associated with lower anxiety.
The results reported here demonstrate that although mental strength is strongly associated with anxiety, anxiety does not seem to influence stop and search desire or use. This suggests that it is not anxiety, but the individual’s personal characteristics that influence their behavior in these settings.
These implications reach far outside the police force and apply to all operational and tactical athletes as well as first responders.
It seems that highly mentally strong individuals seem better able to work in stressful settings and carry out seemingly stressful and tough jobs compared to their lower mentally tough counterparts.
These findings add further weight to the argument that increased mental strength is associated with improved ability to deal with stressors and perform under pressure.
The use of mental strength assessment further demonstrates specific and occupational relevant measure of personal characteristics that can then be coached and improved upon.
I’d like to hear your thoughts below in the comment section.
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