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The Mentally Tough Player (Part 2)

  • Author:
    Spencer Wood
  • Date:
    Jan 19, 2016

The Mental Toughness Success Keys 

In Part 1 of The Mentally Tough Player, we discussed different ways to define and teach mental toughness to the 21st century athlete.  We discussed when working with elite athletes and teams at the varsity high school level, collegiate and professional levels, I always recommend defining mental toughness and constructing an improvement plan to develop mental toughness around the “4 C’s” – meaning an athlete’s Composure, Concentration, Confidence and Commitment.  A 5th C – Character, which in many ways is also connected to mental toughness, completes the full and essential mental makeup of the player.  We learned for youth players, the meaning of these 4 C’s are not as well understood as they are by coaches and players at higher/more elite levels of basketball.  Finally, in Part 1, we discussed a great secret to mental toughness that so many of the World’s best youth basketball coaches know and use, that for youth players it is much easier and much more effective to define mental toughness in relation to key on-court and off-court BEHAVIORS

COACHES NETWORK: Developing Mental Toughness

Key mental toughness behaviors are very easy to understand, simple to create a plan for, and simple to execute.  In addition, behaviors can often be scored, which means that improvements can be measured and monitored.  As noted, Parts 1, 2 and 3 of The Mentally Tough Player will outline 15 key Toughness Behaviors that can be implemented into any practice, and just as importantly, effectively measured and tracked in a simple and fun way to put a mental toughness improvement plan in place for your team!

The list of the 15 key toughness behaviors is by no means exhaustive.  Most experienced coaches could easily generate another 15-20 toughness behaviors with little effort.  However, remember that the goal when working with youth athletes from a cognitive and learning perspective is keep it simple and keep it fun Less is often more when working with youth athletes because the amount that they actually LEARN is more important than the amount that they are exposed to. 

Focusing on just a maximum of 3-5 key behaviors at a time will help the youth athlete to absorb more, learn more and improve more.  Further, all of the toughness success keys are 100% controllable by the player, meaning that each of the keys are based on either attitude or effort or a combination of both, versus success keys that are based on ability/high levels of skill or uncontrollable outcomes.  Creating toughness keys based on ability and outcomes have value at professional levels, and to a certain degree at collegiate and varsity scholastic levels, but for youth sports, the more controllable a task the more confidence and motivation the youth athlete will have in the pursuit of that task or goal. 

Before listing the behaviors, one final point should be made.  It is often helpful to show what mental toughness IS and also what mental toughness IS NOT.  While it can be important for youth athletes to understand the types of behaviors that are not encouraged or not accepted, a few coaches might choose to deduct a point from an athlete’s overall score when one of the undesirable behaviors occurs.  I believe that when using a point tracking system for youth athletes, point deductions can often be a double-edged sword of motivation, because while I am a very strong believer in accountability and a strong believer that the undesirable behavior should be acknowledged and corrected, actual point deductions can be very demoralizing for the youth athlete. 

Research conclusively demonstrates that for motivation and successful learning outcomes for the youth athlete, the power and effectiveness of positive rewards for the good and desired behavior has greater and longer lasting effects than the negative punishments used in an attempt to avoid and discourage the undesired behavior.  The youth coach is encouraged to meet with his/her team before practice, read to the team the key mental toughness behaviors (and the descriptions of the behaviors) that will be emphasized during that practice, put up a simple and easy to read poster with bright markers during practice that has the 3 key toughness behaviors as columns and all of the players names as rows, and keep a simple point scoring system during practice to make a big deal out of each player whenever a player demonstrates one of the toughness behaviors.

Remember that in Part 1 we outlined the first 3 key Mental Toughness Behaviors – Connected to Excuses, Work Ethic and Coachability, and we provided important information that will help you to explain these critical toughness behaviors to your athletes.  We will complete Part 2 in this Mentally Tough Player Series by outlining the next 3 of the 15 key Mental Toughness Behaviors that we will be using. 

Mental Toughness Behavior # 4 DIGGING DEEP                                    

The Mentally Tough Player – DIGS DEEP

The mentally tough player knows how to ‘dig deep’ and find that extra effort when things get really tough, such as during conditional drills, during a hard practice, or at the end of a game when everyone is really tired.



# 5 LOOSE BALLS & CHARGES                                    


The mentally tough player takes great pride in being the first to go after a loose ball and takes great pride in looking for opportunities to take a charge.  Mentally tough players know that their team cannot score without the ball, and so when an opportunity arises to get on the floor for that loose ball, they go after the ball with intensity every time.  They tell themselves before every practice and game… “every loose ball will be mine today if I am close to that ball!”



# 6 DEFENSIVE INTENSITY                                    

The Mentally Tough Player – HOLDS NOTHING BACK ON DEFENSE!

Mentally tough players bring their "A" game on offense AND DEFENSE.  Michael Jordan, One of the greatest players in the history of the game (if not the greatest), was known for his mental toughness and also known for his defensive intensity.  Michael Jordan won multiple NBA MVP awards while also being selected to the "ALL NBA Defensive Team."  Michael Jordan’s defensive intensity was legendary and his defensive intensity obviously did not hurt his play on offense! (Michael Jordan led the NBA in scoring in multiple seasons).  Lebron James, one of the greatest players currently in the NBA today (if not the greatest) is also known for his great intensity on defense while also being a great offensive player.  Mentally tough players realize that they should always work on their conditioning and get themselves in peak shape to be able to bring this type of maximum intensity on defense. 


Mentally Tough Player: Part 1 

Look for Part 3 and Part 4 of The Mentally Tough Player that will discuss the remaining 9 Mental Toughness Behaviors Keys!




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  • Author:
    Steve Drumwright, Red Line Editorial
  • Date:
    Mar 17, 2022

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