GPF: Tips For Coaches and Athletes on Improving Mental Strength

It’s “Guest Post Friday”! On Fridays, I feature thoughts from individuals who have strong input about the mental side of fitness, training and life. I select witty and honest posts, that give you practical tips and advice. This one will give both coaches, and athletes some tips on how to develop, share, and even borrow mental strength.

Enjoy the post below, written by Priscilla Tallman, from CrossFit Fury.

Borrowing Strength


“The trouble is, Pete, you have more confidence in me than I do in myself.”

That’s what I told my coach, Peter Egyed, a five-time CrossFit Games competitor when he told me I had more in the tank after a workout. I was waxing poetic and complaining that I was too tall or too old or too something-or-other to be faster in that particular WOD.

I don’t remember the WOD but I remember he said something like this “I don’t believe that, Tallman, you can do anything you set your mind to.”

Whether he was right or not, it definitely had my mind turning after I left the gym. What if he’s right? What if I have more? I processed that statement for days.

In psychology, there is a term called borrowing strength. Therapists use this to describe the process of letting a client or patient borrow an attribute that they may possess but don’t quite know how to use. They can borrow the attribute from the therapist until they are able to internalize it for themselves. Once it’s internalized, the person no longer needs to borrow it; they now possess it and can begin using it in their own lives.

People can borrow attributes like boundaries, strength, courage, bravery, humility, peacefulness, sadness, passion or health…the list goes on and on.

Borrowing strength isn’t necessarily a physical process it’s mostly a subconscious process, so it might not be as literal as adding weight to the barbell or teaching them how to dump a bar off their back after a heavy back squat.Truth is, you are likely already incorporating this into your coaching and training without even knowing it, but here are a few tips to build on what you are already doing:

  1. Saying – Verbal cues are important to communicate proper mechanics and facilitate healthy movement but they are also important to encourage an athlete to keep working. You don’t necessarily need to be a cheerleader, but if you can point out something they are doing well or correctly, that opens up a place for you to tackle something else. “That’s great, your chest and elbows are up, now we need to work on getting depth – focus on that on your next rep.” You give the coaching cue and you and also ensure another rep out of that athlete.
  2. Doing – You can talk about depth, shaving seconds off benchmark workouts, write names up on the white board, but if you aren’t living out the example you are trying to set for your athletes, it isn’t going to catch on. You don’t need to be Rich or Camille, but you need to practice what you preach. Athletes can borrow strength just by watching you put in the work.
  3. Being – If saying and doing are one way streets, think of being as a two-way street. What attributes do you have that you can loan to your athletes and what can they loan you? Know what your strengths are and reproduce them in others but also find mentors and coaches to do the same for yourself. Be willing to learn and grow so that your growth is contagious.
  4. Boundaries – Letting an athlete borrow strength will take time. Sometimes an athlete may need to hear the same thing several times before they internalize it. Be patient, but know where the boundary is. Coaching and training an athlete should help them be the best person/athlete they can be. It isn’t a codependent process by which they zap your energy and your strength. You don’t surrender your own strength to build up someone else.

Final Thoughts

Borrowing strength is not a copout. It’s actually a leg up if you do it right.

I’m still not the fastest or the strongest athlete in the gym, but I can hold my own on the rower, I can get up the rope in two pulls, I’m decent overhead with presses and jerks (not breaking records here, people) and I’m still working on my squat.

The biggest thing for me now is that I believe I can do more in the gym. The mental shift may not have gotten me a sub four-minute Fran or a 200 lb. back squat, but it’s gotten me up the rope, over the pull-up bar, into the Open and focused on what else is possible inside and outside the gym.”


About The Author: Priscilla Tallman is an All-America volleyball player from the University of Georgia. She holds an undergraduate degree in Psychology and a Master’s in Clinical Psychology as well as her L1 CrossFit Certification and CrossFit Mobility Trainer Certification. When she’s not writing or CrossFitting, she is putting in work as a mommy and encouraging student-athletes to pursue their passions.
Peter Egyed, CrossFit Fury: (
Priscilla’s personal blog:
Twitter: @pytallman

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