This article was written by Ryan Ridder. Coach Ridder is an assistant men's basketball coach at Campbell University in Buies Creek, NC. He has been a part of that coaching staff since 2010 and was previously at Embry-Riddle University. Ryan has grown up in a basketball family and has a great basketball mind.
Almost every college 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 kids? Or is it something they are able to breed into their program?
In order to create a mentality of toughness for your team it is important that we define exactly what this key term is. What is toughness? It has been defined 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 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, 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, has 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 he makes his team better.
Nowhere in this definition is taunting your opponent, taking cheap shots, starting fist fights after the play is dead. These are all examples of mental weakness and will ultimately harm the team down the line.
When you take a look at the tough 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 be tougher by nature, toughness is a skill that we as coaches can breed into our players and teams.
Just like shooting and ball handling, toughness is a skill that we as coaches must instill every day to our team if this is important to our program. This is done in a couple different ways:
Mindset of 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 day is a war. There will be a high energy level and tons of contact with each other and the floor throughout the day. Undivided focus is required for the allotted time for practice.
Toughness is taught through the habits we create in practice. Whether you run a “take the charge drill”, “Competitive Rebounding Drill”, “Loose ball Drill”, “Defensive drill where team can’t get out until a certain number of stops”, or a variety these every day, it is important that players know this is the backbone and foundation of the team. These should be frequently practiced, I believe on a daily basis.
These 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 players who do the “dirty work” need to be embraced. As 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 team.
Holding Players Accountable
These drills that are run on a daily basis 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 team.
Embrace the Team’s Success Over Individual Awards
This is under creating a toughness mentality because regardless of the sport, level, affiliation, 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 is something that must be preached on the floor every practice, individual meetings, motivational messages around the locker room. This throws all egos out of the door and allows your team to have great success.