Mental Toughness & Resilience

After a 2-0 start, the Hilltoppers suffered a 2-point road loss against the defending state champions in a game plagued with injuries, penalties, and turnovers.  There were opportunities to win that game but we squandered them and did so against a good team who came ready to play.  

I have to admit, inside… where thoughts echo and reverberate, I’m terrible when it comes to losing… However, over the years, I’ve learned to compartmentalize those feelings and focus on what comes next. Jack Clark, Head Coach of the University of California, Berkley Men’s Rugby Team has the most NCAA championships of any college coach in any college sport. Coach Clark defines mental toughness as “the unflinching and relentless ability to identify and execute the next most important thing regardless of the circumstance.” I’d like to think I’ve learned such a concept over more than four decades of playing and coaching this game, and I believe Coach Clark has it right.  

There is no time to wallow in the loss or dwell on last week’s game. We welcome last season’s state finalists this Friday night.  Our focus needs to be on what lies ahead.  I have used the analogy of the windshield and the rearview mirror for years to remind students to focus on what lies ahead and not on what is in their past.  Sure, the rearview is helpful and often may offer a valuable perspective, but there is a reason the windshield of a car is so much larger than the rearview mirror. The majority of our time and attention needs to be focused on what lies in front of us.  We should only occasionally glance at those things in our past.  We learn from them and become better prepared for the future because of them…  But if you spend too much time focused on what is behind you in life or in your car, you will crash into what lies ahead of you. 

Losses may be painful in the moment, and one must feel the feelings and emotions one encounters. However, as we try to teach resilience in our student-athletes, they need to know they can take a hit, a loss, or a momentary disruption and bounce back. As with many lessons we teach around this great game, it’s our most sincere hope our players will learn these lessons, and bounce back in practice, on gameday, and in life.

Coach Rich Alercio is available to discuss coaching philosophy, X’s & O’s, or teach his O-Line “techniques in the trenches.” Contact Coach at and share with your colleagues and friends. Thanks for supporting this blog and joining our conversations, and as always, thanks for your time!  

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