In sports we hear about different players being able to overcome a certain set of obstacles to win a game or a series, and we use the words "mentally tough" to describe them, but what exactly is mental toughness? Even more, how do you achieve mental toughness as a player or a team? These are great questions to ask, because any team or player that accomplishes something great like winning a championship, is going to have to show mental toughness at some point along the way. There is going to be a point in a game or season where there is strong adversity, and the team or player will either fold, or fight through it. These are the moments that usually determine the entire season, and sometimes even a career.
What is Mental Toughness?
The first thing that we need to do is define what mental toughness is. After that we can figure out what needs to be done to accomplish it. Here are a couple of great definitions on what mental toughness is.
“Mental toughness is not being affected by anything but what’s going on in the game or competition no matter what coaches, other players, or refs are doing. It’s being able to block out what’s not important.” – Jenny Brenden (Penn State University)
"A perfectly disciplined state of mind that refuses to give in." - Vince Lombardi
During the course of a game there are going to be different challenges that come up which could potentially effect you negatively. Whether it is a poor shooting night, bad calls by the referee, limited playing time, etc. All of these things are real, and present a legitimate threat to you mentally. However, you do not have to allow them to negatively influence you, or determine how well you perform.
For example, if you are having a poor shooting night, you can either focus on that and let it get you down and out of your game, or you can realize that it is just one part of your game, and you can do other things to help your team win. You must refuse to give in and allow yourself to mentally fall apart, regardless of the circumstances. This is where mental toughness comes into play.
Improving Mental Toughness.
By now I am sure that you see the value of having mental toughness, but the question now becomes, "how do I develop my mental toughness?" In order to not fall apart at the end of a tough game, or let one bad play lead into consecutive bad plays, you have to prepare yourself mentally. Improving mental toughness is easier said then done though. The reason why is because in order to develop it, you have to go through tough situations. The good news though is that these situations present themselves on a regular basis. Here are a few examples of times that you can work on improving your mental toughness.
Team Conditioning: Whether you realize it or not, team conditioning is more than just getting into physical shape. It is also used to help develop the team's mental toughness, and togetherness. As your body gets tired your mind will also get fatigued, and you will be tempted to only give the minimum effort required. This is exactly the time though that you need to be mentally strong, and challenge yourself to give your best effort on each sprint! You also need to take it one step further and be a leader to your team and help to hold everyone else accountable as well.
Practice: Good basketball coaches specifically try to create situations in practice where the players are going to have to overcome some form of adversity. Whether it is playing a small game scrimmage where one team starts down by five points, purposely not calling touch fouls, etc. You can either complain about the situation, or you can find a way to overcome them. These are perfect opportunities to work on developing mental toughness. They are game like situations that will hopefully help to prepare you for when you get into an actual game.
Training: At the end of a workout when you are tired and ready to be done, it is very easy to mentally check out. This is the most important time though for developing and working on mental toughness. You have to be willing to fight these urges to mentally quit and still stay locked in on whatever basketball shooting drill, ball handling drill, etc. that you are doing. Being able to think and stay mentally engaged when you are tired is something that you should be working on regularly.
* Finish your workouts with basketball drills that are going to challenge the players to stay locked in mentally and make them think. Here are a couple of good drills to use.
10 Characteristics of a Mentally Tough Player.
- Doesn't let one bad play lead into another. Short memory.
- Is able to take constructive criticism from a coach or teammate with the right attitude.
- Is still able to be a good leader even when they aren't personally playing well.
- Is able to run offense and execute the correct play even when they are physically tired.
- Still shoots the basketball with great form and technique when they are physically fatigued.
- Doesn't check out of a game that they are losing, and looks like there is no chance to win.
- Doesn't complain about something being too difficult, but finds a way to get through it.
- Stays patient and is able to run offense even when being pressured by the defense.
- Stays in control of emotions and doesn't let the size of the stage negatively effect them.
- Doesn't put in the bare minimum during conditioning, but looks to try and win every sprint.