How To Build Mental Toughness In Football

Written By: Chris Haddad
Updated: February 12, 2024

At vIQtory Sports, we focus on the mental aspect of football, including building mental toughness in football. Our focuses include prepping youth players with fundamentals (rules, gameplay, and positional responsibilities) to a much deeper look into the game (Understanding Complex Football Jargon, Learning Defensive Pass Rush Moves, Understanding The Basics Of Cover 3, Cover 4 & Cover 6).

We’ve recently launched the “vIQtory Podcast,” which features some incredible guests, including former and current NFL players.

A major part of the podcast is to get inside the brain of the elite football player. We try to understand the motivation and driving power of how a player made it to the NFL. We dissect their journey and path created by a series of fortunate (and sometimes unfortunate) events, which helped shape the mindset of each player.

Football Mental Toughness

We’ve been fortunate enough to have former NFL players on our podcast, to discuss mental toughness.

We asked 5 different players from 5 different positions to give us their thoughts on mental toughness and developing mental skills. Here are the 5 players we talked to:

Antowain Smith – Running Back – 2x Super Bowl champion with the New England Patriots

Jared Odrick – Defensive Tackle – 7-Year NFL Vet, Drafted 1st round in 2010 by the Dolphins.

Dan Orlovsky – Quarterback –  12 Year NFL career. I played for Indianapolis, Detroit, Houston, and Tampa Bay.

John Potter – Kicker – Former Western Michigan Standout, drafted to Buffalo Bills in 7th round of 2012 Draft

Jon Jansen – Offensive Lineman – 11 years NFL career. Played for Washington Redskins and Detroit Lions

In order to develop mental toughness, the player needs to be aware of his surroundings. The football game itself is half the battle. Football players need to have mental skills, as well as physical skills to be impactful.

In order to gain the mental edge, the foundational building block is self confidence and positive self talk.

All of these players believed they were the best at their positions, and it showed on the field. In order to be a physically tough football player, you need to be mentally tough.

Confidence is born through experiences. The more experience these players had in tough situations, the easier it was to cope and deal with adversity.

Building Mental Toughness

Antowain Smith talks about mental toughness. Antowain has a unique story, as he didn’t start playing football at his high school until his sophomore year. He took 2 years off after college before he attended Eastern Mississippi Community College, which then led him to the University of Houston.

Smith often credits his success to his mental toughness. His NFL career got off to a rocky start (despite being selected in the first round by the Buffalo Bills, things didn’t pan out as he expected).

He soon found himself unemployed, as his time in Buffalo didn’t work out, navigating free agency and ultimately finding a home to a scrappy New England team.

This New England team eventually would win 2 Super Bowls with Antowain as the featured running back.

Antowain’s Message: No matter how bleak things may look, you can always overcome it, you can always overcome it. You have to keep your faith, keep working hard, and believe in yourself.

Uncover your opponent’s offensive and defensive tendencies so you can easily build a game plan.

Inside You’ll Find:

  • Strategies to pick apart defenses
  • How to identify player weaknesses
  • How to save time in your weekly breakdowns

Mental Skills On And Off The Field

Jared Odrick, a former first-round pick of the Miami Dolphins, credits his success to his discipline. As mentioned in the clip above, Jared credits his discipline at an early age to his strength coach.

The high school strength coach mandated 6 am lifts for Jared. What did 6 am lifts do for Jared?

Football was the first thing on his mind. Every morning he would wake up, and his focus and dedication were on football.

This mental discipline helped Jaron focus on his goals and stay on track to receive a full scholarship to Penn State ultimately.

Jared’s Message: “Find the relationship (with whatever it is you’re after), that helps you focus in and reach your goal”

Mentally Adjusting To New Schemes

Dan Orlovsky was a highly sought-after recruit coming out of Connecticut. Offers from Michigan State and other Big 10 schools were on the table for 18-year-old Orlovsky. He ultimately chose the University of Connecticut.

When Dan played for Detroit, he had 4 different offensive coordinators in 4 years. Protection schemes, play calls, and game plans changed from year to year.

He not only had to learn the complexities of new offenses from year to year but had to learn them quickly enough to stay on the depth chart.

How did Dan stay employed?

He credits his success to his high school coach and his play-calling system. They ran a complex, NFL-style offense. Dan had to understand hot reads, blocking schemes, and coverages, when he was 16 years old.

This foundation set by his high school coach, allowed him to see the game from a coaching standpoint and ultimately adapt to any scheme.

Dan’s Message: “This was a big part of my studying growth. Being able to adapt and compartmentalize terms from a young age, makes it easier for me on Sundays. It allowed me to play faster and see the field more clearly.”

Positive Mindset When Things Go Wrong

Kicking in the NFL is not only a rare job but an extremely difficult one. For most of the game, the kicker sits on the bench and patiently waits for his number to be called. So how does a kicker stay mentally focused?

John credits his ability to kick the ball through the uprights based on visuals, not words. He learned early in his career not to talk himself out of situations but rather create a visual of the ball going through the uprights – similar to how a golfer visualizes contact.

Having a positive mindset, even after something goes wrong, can impact the longevity of a kicker.

Potter notes that he missed a high majority of his kicks early on, but a positive mindset and short-term memory helped prolong his career.

John’s Message: “Getting through hard times helps you become mentally strong. Also, realizing how important it is after those misses, to come back and remain positive.”

How To Teach Mental Toughness To Players

Play Multiple Sports As A Kid

Jon Jansen credits much of his success with being a multi-sport athlete.


Simple. It put you in more situations to learn how to win.

On top of having fun with friends, teaching his body different movements (playing basketball), and “being a kid” –  Jon credits his multi-sport background on his ability to learn how to win and lose.

Jon’s Message: “Put yourself in a competitive environment as much as possible; you’ll learn how to win and learn how to handle losses. “

Be Consistent In Your Work Habits

“How you do anything, is how you do everything”

Dan Orlovsky was a bad student during his freshman year of college. His coach pulled him into his office and stated the words above. This moment changed Dan’s life and future.

Dan recalls playing with Peyton Manning, and even in walkthroughs, he was aggressive in his cadence and how his approach was game-simulated. Peyton didn’t pull up or act lazy during the walkthrough just because it was a walkthrough. His consistency helped propel him to be the great player he was.

Dan’s Message: “You have to treat every single play like you’re in the game. It’s gas down all the time.

Mental Game

It’s important to discuss mental toughness with your football players so they can start to develop the mental skills necessary to be dominant.

Not only should you practice skills on the football field, but also have sessions for football psychology and football mindset. Build your player’s confidence levels up so they can thrive on the field.

In order to get your players to their peak performance physically and to stay focused during game situations, you need to cut time out of your practice to develop these skills. We recommend these skills be worked on daily, so that way athletes can make mistakes and learn from them.

About the author 

Chris Haddad

Chris Haddad is the founder of vIQtory Sports & high school coach for over 12+ years. He has been featured as an authority on Hudl, Bleacher Report and countless other football-centric platforms. Chris continues to study and provide valuable content for those looking to learn more about the game of football.