USA Basketball Women's National Team

Mentally Tough Player (Part 4)

  • Author:
    Spencer Wood
  • Date:
    Feb 4, 2016

In Parts 1, 2 and 3 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 & 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. 

• Mentally Tough Player - Part 1

• Mentally Tough Player - Part 2

• Mentally Tough Player - Part 3

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.  Parts 1 also 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

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.  Finally, Parts 1, 2 & 3 discussed the first nine keys to Mental Toughness Behaviors, outlined smart ways to create a mental toughness plan, and finally how to track improvements in a way that is simple, effective and fun for your team.

Below you will find Mental Toughness Behavior Keys #10 through #15 to complete our list of the Key Mental Toughness Behaviors


Mental Toughness Behavior Key # 10 ‘CLASS’                                    

The Mentally Tough Player – WINS WITH ‘CLASS’ AND LOSES WITH ‘CLASS’

The mentally tough player who has just won a game is respectful to opponents by shaking the opponent’s hands or giving them a respectful fist bump and telling the opponent ‘good game’ or ‘good luck this year’ or something else which is genuine, respectful and encouraging.  It is usually easier to be respectful to an opponent after a victory, and yet the mentally tough player will show the SAME amount of respect to an opponent after a loss.  Now comes the hard part….the mentally tough player will show a high level of ‘class’ even that opponent has shown little class or respect.  The mentally tough player will not allow himself/herself to sink to the same disrespectful level of a player or a team who has shown little class or respect.  The mentally tough player also knows the difference between an acceptable level of positive celebration after he/she has made a good or great play as opposed to a disrespectful ‘over-the-top’ celebration that quickly becomes more about the athlete than the great play.

The Mentally Weak Player – OFTEN SHOWS POOR CLASS WHEN WINNING & NO CLASS WHEN LOSING

 

# 11 THE EXTRA MILE                                    

The Mentally Tough Player – WILL GO THE EXTRA MILE, EVEN WHEN NO ONE IS WATCHING

The mentally tough player loves to get to practice early and loves to stay late to get in extra practice and improvement, even when the coach is not aware that the player is going the extra mile and putting in the extra work.  When it is not possible for the mentally tough player to arrive early to practice and leave late, he/she will find other opportunities and times to practice and improve.  The mentally tough player knows that even when the coaching staff does not see the player putting in the extra work, they WILL eventually see all of the improvements that result from the extra work.

The Mentally Weak Player – WILL USUALLY ONLY DO ENOUGH TO GET BY

The mentally weak player will typically only break a real sweat in mandatory team practice and will rarely get in any ‘serious’ practice time outside of team practice.  Serious practice time means putting a plan in place to improve while working on ball handling, key moves, shooting, and other key skills that need work, while practicing at game-time speed.  Whenever the mentally weak player decides to play basketball outside of team practice it is typically to just ‘practice’ by casually shooting around or goofing off.  This type of activity is really casually ‘playing’ the game vs. actually PRACTICING the game.  In the mind of the mentally weak athlete, he/she is just ‘faking’ a practice and pretending to work on their game in an effort to make themselves feel a sense of accomplishment without really getting in any serious practice, work and improvement.

 

# 12  LISTENING           

The Mentally Tough Player – WORKS HARD TO BE A GREAT LISTENER

Great listening skills and great communication skills can be difficult at times, especially when we are tired, frustrated or angry.  During these moments, it requires great toughness to communicate or listen well and not give in to our own fatigue, frustration or anger and say or do something that we may regret when we are rested or calmer.  In addition, communication and listening is harder for some people than it is for others.  However, mentally tough players try hard to be great listeners and great team communicators.  Great listeners and communicators look people in the eye when they are talking to them or when they are listening to them.  Eye contact means that we are paying attention, are focused, and are giving the other person respect.  Great listeners let someone know that they have understood an instruction by verbalizing that they have understood with a quick “ok, I’ve got it,” by repeating the instructions back to the coach or teammate to show that they have understood, or by giving a respectful head nod to let the other person know that they have understood what was said.  Great listeners are also patient, waiting for the other person to finish what they are saying before asking questions or making comments of their own

The Mentally Weak Player – MAKES LITTLE EFFORT TO BE A BETTER COMMUNICATOR & LISTENER

 

# 13 ENCOURAGEMENT                                    

The Mentally Tough Player – WORKS HARD TO BE ONE OF THE BEST ENCOURAGERS

Mentally tough players are always trying to build the confidence of their teammates by encouraging them when they have a made a mistake and praising them when they have made a good play.  The mentally tough player never lets a good pass, good hustle play or any other good play made by a teammate go without a word of encouragement or a high 5.  Enthusiasm and encouragement are the foundation of great team energy.  Championship teams have great enthusiasm, a culture of encouragement and great energy.

The Mentally Weak Player – MAKES LITTLE EFFORT TO BE A GREAT ENCOURAGER

The mentally weak player is often too focused on himself/herself to encourage teammates or will allow petty jealousy or insecurity to get in the way of supporting teammates and building team morale and confidence.  The mentally weak player will sometimes only encourage teammates they like, while choosing not to encourage other teammates they do not like as much, and will rarely encourage teammates who are competing directly with them for playing time

 

# 14 SELF-ANALYSIS                                    

The Mentally Tough Player – CONSTANTLY REVIEWS HIS/HER OWN PERFORMANCE 

The mentally tough player spends a few minutes after every practice and every game thinking about what they can do to play even better at the next practice or game.  The mentally tough player is secure enough to identify areas of improvement and will strive to write down two things he/she did well in the practice or game, and at least three things that he/she can do to improve.  This concept is the essence of one of the most important keys to future success of any player –  self-driven accountability – (a term that almost every coach will understand, but some youth players will need a definition of) which is the ability to analyze or think about your own performance, plan the changes that need to be made, and then make the improvements. The mentally tough player will even strive to compare previous post-practice and post-game analysis notes to see whether he/she can identify any trends or similar realizations from one practice to another or one game to another.  Improvement trends can create a GREAT improvement plan of action, and can help the athlete to set some very specific and very important improvement goals. 

The Mentally Weak Player – DOES NOT CARE ENOUGH OR IS TOO INSECURE TO HONESTLY SELF-REFLECT AND OFTEN TO LAZY TO WRITE NOTES ON A PREVIOUS PERFORMANCE

 

# 15 COMPLAINING                                    

The Mentally Tough Player – KNOWS YOU CAN GET BUSY WINNING OR GET BUSY WHINING

Mentally tough players are more interested in winning than they are in whining.  Mentally tough players search for the positive in things versus the negative in things, and even when the mentally tough player feels frustrated, he/she rarely shows it and rarely complains.  Mentally tough players choose instead to keep the team energy levels high and the team vibe positive with positive thoughts and comments versus negative thoughts and comments.  This attitude takes toughness and maturity.  Mentally tough players know that the definition of maturity is “when the things you should do become more important than the things you want to do.”  Remember that MATURITY HAS MUCH MORE TO DO WITH YOUR ATTITUDE THAN IT DOES YOUR AGE.

The Mentally Weak Player – SEARCHES FOR THE NEGATIVE OR THE WORST IN THINGS, AND THEN COMPLAINS ABOUT THOSE THINGS

          

SUMMARY

Coaches and athletes of all levels understand the importance of mental toughness in the pursuit of a successful season, particularly in the intense heat and pressure of post-season play.  Yet, mental toughness remains both hard to simply define and fairly elusive to maintain, teach and develop a plan for.  I hope you have found the preceding article useful to help define mental toughness and put a simple and easy-to-implement plan in place for the youth athletes you coach.  Here’s wishing each of you tremendous success as you plan for your upcoming seasons!

• Mentally Tough Player - Part 1

• Mentally Tough Player - Part 2

• Mentally Tough Player - Part 3




 

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