This basketball coaching article was written by Bethune-Cookman Head Coach Ryan Ridder.
Almost every college basketball team and basketball coach in the country talks about the word “toughness.” Great teams have it, and mediocre teams lack it. The question is, how do these great teams attain such a high level of toughness? Do they recruit tougher basketball players? Or is it something they can breed into their program?
To create a mentality of toughness for your basketball team, we must define precisely what this key term is. What is toughness? It has been defined in many different ways in college basketball. To me, toughness has very little to do with your size and physical strength, but everything to do with your mental mindset. Tough players are those that take pride in everything that they do.
They put the team first and execute their role at the highest level possible. They talk on defense, don’t allow themselves to get screened, they dive on loose balls, bump all cutters, check a man for a rebound, sprint the floor every possession, take a charge, sacrifice their body for the betterment of the team, embrace a teammates success, compete and want to win every basketball drill in practice, take great shots, have great body language, takes responsibility when they have not done their job and let the team down, and ultimately play so hard that everyone in the building knows that player deserves to be on the floor because they make their team better.
Nowhere in this definition is taunting your opponent, taking cheap shots, and starting fistfights after the play is dead. These are all examples of mental weakness and will ultimately harm the team down the line.
When you look at the tough basketball teams across the nation, I believe you will see that they don’t always recruit a tougher player. Although some player’s make up may happen to be tougher by nature, toughness is a skill that we as coaches can breed into our players and teams.
The Mindset of Basketball Practice
Practice should be approached with a smash-mouth mentality. When players walk through the door for practice, they should know and eventually embrace the fact that each basketball practice will be filled with intensity and will be a war. There will be a high energy level and tons of contact with each other and the floor throughout the day. An undivided focus is required for the allotted time for practice.
Teaching Toughness to Your Basketball Team
Toughness is taught through the habits that we create in practice. Whether you run a “Take the charge drill,” “Competitive rebounding drill,” “Loose ball brill,” “Defensive basketball drills where the team can’t get out until a certain number of stops,” or a variety of these every day, it is important that players know this is the backbone and foundation of the team. These should be frequently practiced, and I believe daily.
These team basketball drills need to be competitive where winners and losers are determined. The losing teams have a consequence. This will breed a winning mentality, and every drill will be done at a high level. Not only do these need to be practiced, but the players who do the “dirty work” need to be embraced. As basketball coaches, get excited and celebrate a great screen, someone who sprints back to take a charge, making the extra pass, diving on the floor. These are all great attributes of a tough basketball team.
Holding Your Basketball Players Accountable
These basketball drills that are run daily are not done just to check it off and say we got our team tougher. Each player must be held to the highest standard. If your best scorer does not buy into taking a charge or diving on the floor, it will hurt your team. When the players on your team know that each player is held accountable in every area, it will breed cohesiveness and, ultimately, a tighter, tougher basketball team.
Embrace the Basketball Team’s Success Over Individual Awards
This is under creating a toughness mentality because regardless of the sport, level, affiliation, etc., the toughest teams and the ones with the greatest success have the mentality that no one cares who gets the credit as long as we succeed as a unit. Team championships are more important than any individual award. This must be preached on the floor every practice, individual meetings, and motivational messages around the locker room. This throws all egos out of the door and allows your basketball team to have great success.
Creating a Toughness Mentality for Your Basketball Program Conclusion
As a basketball program, you are what you value, and when it comes to toughness, as we have seen, this is no exception. So as you sit down to make your daily or weekly practice schedule, make sure that an emphasis is put on what you can do to improve your basketball team’s toughness level. Everyday make it a priority to challenge your players. Also, encourage your team leaders to challenge their teammates. Once players start to hold each other accountable (in the right way), you are on the right track.
After a while, a high level of toughness will be the expected normal, and you will see a night and day difference in the way that your basketball team competes. It doesn’t happen overnight, though, so be committed to the process.