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Are you ‘Avenger Tough’? A look at the strengths & weaknesses of Marvel’s favorite heroes

Avengers 2 Age of Ultron Mental ToughnessGuest blog by Dr. Eddie O’Connor
Sports psychologist for Mary Free Bed’s Performance Excellence Center
Editor’s Note: ‘Avengers: Age of Ultron’ hit theaters on May 1, earning the record for second-highest-grossing opening weekend. Below is Dr. Eddie’s assessment of what it means to be ‘Avenger Tough.’ Subscribe to the Performance Excellence Center newsletter to get sports tips and strategies delivered to your inbox.   

I enjoy these heroes because each has a power we admire and a struggle they must overcome. Like mentally tough athletes, they do great things in spite of extreme adversity and personal challenges.

Hulk obviously has the strength we want as athletes. He just as obviously has anger issues. But anger itself is not good or bad, it is just an emotion. What we do with anger is the difference. Do we destroy the city, or use that energy to direct our strength and fight for positive change? Do we take our anger out on teammates and destroy chemistry, or use the emotion to work harder in practice and improve?

Captain America Mental ToughnessCaptain America is a perfectionist. Many high achievers are, and this can be a good thing. As an idealist he is driven. Combine that with his high morality and integrity and he inspires a great deal of trust. You want that in your leaders. In the comics, our heroes can be near perfect. But if I were consulting with Cap in real life I would have to teach him how to be “the perfect perfectionist.” Mistakes are necessary for learning. Absolutely necessary. And the athlete that treats mistakes as learning lessons stays energized and reaches his potential.

Ironman has the confidence of a mentally tough athlete. He believes he can win and puts everything into a focused effort to achieve his goals. Nothing stops Tony Stark when he wants something. This makes him great. But he risks overconfidence. Tony becomes arrogant and self-centered. When athletes do this in real life, they isolate their teammates and can get lazy, thinking they are better than they are and work less hard in training. While Ironman remains dedicated, he also struggles with alcoholism as a way to deal with pressure. I believe Tony is most heroic when he faces his problems and addiction directly.

I love Thor for his passionate protection of Midgard, his teammates, and those he loves. Thor enjoys the challenges of battle and would engage sport with a sense of fun and adventure. But let’s be honest, Thor is a classic underachiever. He is a Norse god!!! Despite his talent he doesn’t really stand above the rest of the team, does he? Many of the athletes I see struggle with this. They rely on their God-given talent and succeed with average effort. But then they go to college or turn professional and all of a sudden their talent can’t carry them. They have to develop a stronger work ethic, develop mental toughness and learn to sacrifice. Otherwise the next level spits them out. Watch how many of last night’s 1st Round NFL Draft picks fail. And watch the careers of late round picks who work very hard and succeed. Talent is not enough.

Speaking of hard work, Hawkeye comes to mind. Such incredible skill takes years of dedicated practice. The challenge for such dedicated athletes in the real world is finding balance within the imbalance to avoid burnout and repetitive use injuries. Keep sport in perspective. Do not lose sight of other valued areas of living such as school, family and faith.

Black Widow Avengers 2Black Widow personifies agility and flexibility with both her physical skills and her talent for “adapting” to her situation to achieve her goals. We can admire her athleticism and physical skills, but she scares me with her ability to lie. A useful skill for a spy and assassin, but lying destroys trust in relationships. Can you trust a teammate to be dependable or consistent who is dishonest or acts differently around different groups of people? Who is the real person? … I imagine I would have to provide a lot of marital counseling to Natasha and her partner. Honesty is critical for intimacy and connection.

Marvel introduces three new characters that have qualities athletes desire: Quicksilver with his incredible speed, Scarlet Witch with her magical hex abilities (you know those athletes that just make things happen out of nothing) and Vision who, as an android, has superhuman analytic capabilities (useful for game planning and tactical execution).

But the 3 of them share a common challenge … bad fathers! Vision is the creation of Ultron (movie villain), Pietro and Wanda are the son and daughter of Magneto (you know, the big X-Men villain). All 3 struggle with doing good or evil, fighting their parental influences.

Now – sport parents are NOT evil. Quite the opposite, they are motivated by love. But at the same time yelling at refs and coaching from the sideline models poor sportsmanship, poor emotional control, and undermines the coach. How much less distress would these heroes have if their parents consistently told them, “I love to watch you play” rather than compare their performance to others, or “coach” them though their mistakes on the car ride home?

Enjoy ‘Avenger: Age of Ultron’ and learn to be “Avenger Tough” at my Finish Strong Workshop May 2015.


arin mccullough

What age group is appropriate for the finish strong workshop?

Tricia Boot

Hi Arin. Dr. Eddie said the workshop is intended mostly for high school and college athletes, but would be appropriate for the serious middle school aged athlete. Please call 616.840.8070 with any questions or to register. Thank you!


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