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Mental Toughness in Basketball: Learning How to be Mentally Tough as a Player

Basketball Drills for Coaches and Players


In this guide, we’ll delve into the often overlooked but crucial aspect of basketball – the mindset. Being mentally tough isn’t just about handling pressure situations; it’s about resilience, focus, and the ability to bounce back from setbacks stronger than before. Join us as we explore the strategies, exercises, and techniques used by top athletes to cultivate unwavering mental toughness on and off the court. Whether you’re facing a critical game, a challenging opponent, or personal obstacles, this guide will equip you with the tools to thrive under pressure and emerge as a formidable force in the world of basketball.


Developing Mental Toughness in Basketball


Developing Mental Toughness in Basketball


In sports, we hear about different basketball 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 basketball team or player who accomplishes something great like winning a championship will have to show mental toughness at some point along the way. There will 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 in Basketball?

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 of 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 basketball game, there will be different challenges that come up, which could potentially affect 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 in Basketball

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 than done, though. The reason why is because, to develop it, you have to go through tough situations. The good news, though, is that these situations present themselves regularly. 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 hold everyone else accountable.


Basketball Practice: Good basketball coaches specifically try to create situations where the players will 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. As a basketball player, you can either complain about the situation or find a way to overcome them. These are perfect opportunities to work on developing mental toughness in basketball. They are game-like situations that will help to prepare you for when you get into an actual game.


Basketball Training: At the end of a workout, when you are tired and ready to be done, it is very easy to check out mentally. 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 you should be regularly working on.

* Finish your workouts with basketball drills that will challenge you to stay locked in mentally and think. Here are a couple of good drills to use.


10 Characteristics of a Mentally Tough Basketball Player:

  1. Doesn’t let one bad play lead to another – short memory.
  2. Can take constructive criticism from a basketball coach or teammate with the right attitude.
  3. Is still able to be a good leader even when they aren’t personally playing well.
  4. Can run the offense and execute the correct basketball play even when they are physically tired.
  5. Still shoots the basketball with great form and technique when they are physically fatigued.
  6. Doesn’t check out of a game that they are losing and looks like there is no chance to win.
  7. Doesn’t complain about something being too difficult but finds a way to get through it.
  8. Stays patient and can run offense even when being pressured by the defense.
  9. Stays in control of emotions and doesn’t let the size of the stage negatively affect them.
  10. Doesn’t put in the bare minimum during conditioning, but looks to try and win every sprint.



Tough Basketball Players


Tough Basketball Players

Zak Buncik contributed to this portion of the article.. 


What separates a good player from a great player and a great player from an elite player? The answer…toughness! Tough players play and play effectively, no matter what!


Plays Through Bad Calls

A tough guy plays through bad calls. He can go on the road in a hostile environment and does not let someone else dictate how his game is played. An elite player does not let a bad call affect how he plays his next possession. A good player does. An elite player takes the challenge of knowing he will get nothing handed to him on the road.



Plays Through Hostile Environments

A tough guy embraces a hostile environment. His mental toughness does not let the intensity of the fans get to him while he is shooting free throws. He is so mentally tough that it does not matter if it is an empty gym or a student section 5,000 strong…he knows the ball is going through the net every time, and then he’s going to lock up on defense and get a stop the next possession on the man he is guarding.



Plays Through Fatigue

A tough guy plays through fatigue. Any good player can be productive on the first game of a 3 game road trip, but an elite player can play better in the third game of the trip. He can do this because he does not let the body run the mind like a good player. An elite player lets his mind run his body, he knows the other nine players on the floor are just as fatigued as him, if not more, but an elite player can convince and push his body far beyond what a good player can push himself.

Plays Through Pain

A tough guy plays through an injury (there is a big difference between pain and serious injury. Serious pro basketball injury and at any other level needs to be handled accordingly). He does not let the aches and pains of a season slow him down from going as hard as he possibly can on every possession. He takes care of his body in every aspect from rehab before practice to get him ready and rehab after practice to make sure he is ready to go full blast the next day.

He takes care of it by getting a proper amount of sleep every night for his body to recover from injury and time spent on the road. The good player turns an injury that should cause you to miss zero games into sitting out two games. The elite player turns an injury that should have you sitting two games into missing zero games.



Does the Little Things

A tough guy does the little things. He talks on every possession. He always plays with energy. He watches extra film with a coach after a long, grueling practice. He gets up extra shots on his own before classes, between classes, and after demanding days on his body. He knows and understands the complete scouting report, not just the man he will be guarding. He holds himself and his teammates accountable for all of their actions on and off the floor. He does not let personal pride stand in front of what is best for the team.


“Tough guys Are Tough In Everything They Do; They Are Tough When They Brush There Teeth, Walk Down The Hall, Run A Sprint, Take A Piss, and Play The Game!”  – Scott Cross, Head Coach University of Texas Arlington.






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