Your Inner Athlete: Mental Toughness, Kansas City Royals

Your Inner Athlete: Mental Toughness, Kansas City Royals

Dr. Haley Perlus continues with tips about ways to empower “Your Inner Athlete.” This week, Haley talks about mental toughness, using the Kansas City Royals World Series win as the prime example of how core values can decide the day. On the field. In life. 


Breaking news (not): the Kansas City Royals won the World Series this year.

To quote a baseball columnist, “They did what they always do: they played with heart and won.”

When we talk about heart in sport psychology, we’re referring to motivation. And this year, in particular, the Royals’ motivation went a lot farther than just the desire to win. This year, three of the players had parents die during the season. Pitcher Edinson Volquez lost his father the first night of the World Series. Third baseman Mike Moustakas lost his mother to in August. Pitcher Chris Young’s father died as well this year. These tragedies reminded the Kansas City Royals of their most deeply held values and brought about a level of motivation that influences the highest level of effort, ultimately leading to peak performance.

For those of you who are not familiar with the first game of the World Series, Edinson Valquez was not told about his father’s death before the game. In fact, Chris Young was the only Royals player told before the game, only to prepare him for a possible start. If Volquez found out about his father death and couldn’t start, the Royals needed Young to be prepared. Young did end up pitching the final three hitless innings and getting the most emotional victory of his life. He said he felt the presence of his father, Charles, during every pitch.

To quote an article I read on the subject: “He was throwing the ball harder than he has in six years, hitting 90 mph on the radar gun, with electric movement on his fastball, and depth to his slider.”

Chris Young said: “Every inning tonight I was thinking about my dad, hearing his voice. Anytime I feel like I lose focus, I hear my dad in my head saying, ‘Concentrate, focus on what you need to do to help this club win.’ He’s with me constantly. It’s just fresh for me, and tonight brought that back.”

Not only did Chris perform on that particular night, but a day after his father’s death, he pitched five innings of no-hit ball.

It’s important to know that Volquez did attend his father’s funeral in the Dominican Republic, but not before telling his team he would be back on the pitching mound to help win the World Series. When he did return, as promised, he inscribed his father’s initials on the back of the mound and on the inside of his cap.

You see, motivation is optimized when we feel connected to a deeply held set of values and to a purpose beyond our own self-interest. The key motivation muscle that fuels the choices we make, the intensity we exert, our persistence, and our effort to perform our best, is our courage and conviction to live by our values, even when it seems like the hardest thing on earth to do. When we are led by our strongest values, it’s our passion, commitment, integrity, and honesty that gives us strength to fight to the bitter end.

For better or worse, it is often around tragedy, such as a death, an injury, or being confronted with a deep fear, that people discover their deepest motivation. It births or rebirths a sense of purpose, leading to exerting every ounce of energy towards a specific task. In turn, concentration is heightened, confidence is unshaken, both of which are requirements for peak performance.

Another great example of what I am talking about is Brett Favre’s performance the day after his father died in December 2003. Brett Favre said: “For about five minutes there was some indecision about playing.”

After that, the choice was made and he went out to give one of his better performances. Favre passed for 399 yards and four touchdowns, moving into second place in NFL history for career touchdown passes while leading the Green Bay Packers to a 41-7 victory over the Oakland Raiders. And, just this year, The Green Bay Packers inducted Brett Favre into their team Hall of Fame.

It’s all in these moments when you take nothing for granted and do whatever has to be done – no matter how difficult or draining.

To understand how to hold on to this optimal level of motivation on a day-to-day basis, when you set your daily intentions or goals, ensure that at least one of them is directly attached to your ultimate purpose and values. Your deepest values could be family, respect and kindness toward others, and health.

Each day, ensure you do one thing that keeps you connected to your values.

Acknowledge your daily achievement, pat yourself on the back for staying connecting to your purpose. That will help you achieve and maintain optimal motivation, giving you the best shot at peak performance.

About Dr. Haley Perlus:

The event wears its name like a glove: “WOW.”  The acronym is a perfect fit for Becca Tudor’s awesome Weekend of Wellness, relatively new festival (the 3rd annual gathering took place in early June 2015) that celebrates overall fitness, including ways grow a spine, man up –  yoga, kettle bell, Pilates, cycling, kids’ classes – and also get educated about health trends in general through lectures by doctors, nutritionists, and renowned experts in the field of sports psychology. Experts such as Dr. Haley Perlus, a stand-out on a long list of superstar women featured at Telluride WOW, already a no-miss event if you are on a path towards personal transformation.


I attended Haley’s lecture about the psychology behind good nutrition and overall health. The holistic contents turned out to be a back door to ways to live a healthy life in general. We were all left wanting more from this buff, blonde brainiac, so Telluride Inside… and Out invited Haley to blog on our site. And lucky for us all, Haley agreed. 

BIO: With a Ph.D. in Sport and Exercise Psychology, M.S. in Sport Pedagogy, and numerous fitness and coaching certifications, Dr. Perlus is an expert at empowering athletes of all types and health enthusiasts achieve peak results. An adjunct professor at the University of Colorado, international speaker, former Alpine ski racer, appointed Industry Leader for, and author, including soon-to-be-released “The One Minute Diet and Guidebook to Gold.”

Dr. Perlus helps people reach their highest standard of performance. For further information and a free chapter of one of her books, visit  

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