2009 NAB AFL U18 Championships - does mental toughness develop "well-rounded" footballers?

Moving Beyond Optimal Performance to Developing the “Well-Rounded” Footballer

Athletes, coaches, sport administrators, and their media widely acknowledge the importance of mental toughness as a key ingredient of optimal performance. The AFL is supporting a University of Queensland research project aimed at understanding how the development of mental toughness in youth footballers can promote positive youth development.

Believing in your ability to perform, having an internal desire to achieve your goals, rebounding from adversity, maintaining emotional control, and remaining positive and focused are among the key characteristics that distinguish those athletes “who get there” from those “who stay there” and the “good” from the “great”. But, is there more to this thing called mental toughness than optimal performance?

A growing body of research indicates that youth sport has the potential to promote positive mental health outcomes and foster personal development, as participants’ cognitive, emotional, social, motor, and physical skills are constantly challenged. With many of the key mental toughness characteristics reflecting the essential building blocks of positive youth development, developing mental toughness in youth sport contexts may assist us in becoming more effective in building psychological strengths that may transfer from sport into youth’s everyday life and thereby contribute to positive youth development. As such, researchers from The University of Queensland are conducting a 3-year longitudinal survey of “grass-roots” footballers (aged 10-18) and community coaches aimed at understanding how the development of mental toughness in youth footballers can promote positive youth development.

What is involved for footballers and coaches?

Footballers who choose to participate in the study will, initially, complete a 30-45min questionnaire package, and will be invited to complete follow-up surveys over the following two years. Upon request to the research team, footballers can receive a copy of their mental toughness profile together with information on how they can further develop it. Coaches will be invited to participate in an interview to discuss important issues on the development of mental toughness and positive youth. The survey can be completed either online or as a hardcopy. Footballers who prefer to complete the survey as a hardcopy can contact Dr Daniel Gucciardi for a hardcopy and a reply-paid envelope.

  1. Players under the age of 18 should discuss their involvement with and obtain consent from a parent or guardian before completing the survey.

Download the consent form.

  1. Although consent is assumed when a player has completed the online survey, a parent or guardian should at the very least send an email to (d.gucciardi@uq.edu.au) providing consent for their child to participate.

Once players have consent they can access the survey online at the following web address:


Some of the anticipated outcomes of the research for the football community are as follows:

  • Enable football organisations to create environments that promote positive psycho-social development and minimise negative developmental outcomes (e.g., depression, anxiety) and problem behaviours (e.g., truancy and delinquent acts).
  • Evidence-base from which to inform education programs to assist coaches in creating environments that produce “well-rounded” and mentally tough footballers.
  • Contribute greatly to a more developed (i.e., physically and mentally skilled) pool of talent from which we can identify potential champion footballers for elite competition.

The Australian Football League fully endorses and supports the research project and its team, and hope that you and your club will throw your support behind this important endeavour. You can help support this project by encouraging your players to participate in this survey. Specifically, coaches can obtain hardcopies of the questionnaire package and information sheet from Dr Daniel Gucciardi to distribute among their playing group directly to the players and/or parents.


Daniel Gucciardi, PhD, MAPS
Postdoctoral Research Fellow
School of Human Movement Studies
The University of Queensland
Telephone +61 7 3346 9996

Lawrie Woodman
Manager, Coaching and Volunteers
Australian Football League
Telephone +61 3 9643 1859

Cliff Mallett, PhD, MAPS
Senior Lecturer
School of Human Movement Studies
The University of Queensland
Telephone +61 7 3345 6765



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