Just like every other area of basketball, a coach must study mental toughness and have a well thought through plan to help players develop and improve their mental toughness.
There are hundreds and hundreds of definitions of mental toughness. Here is a place to start as mental toughness applies to basketball.
“Mental toughness is the ability to control thoughts and actions and maintain a focus on what is truly important in a calm and poised way under competitive pressure.”
It is important that your players know and can explain whatever you define mental toughness to be.
Here are some ideas for things you can do to improve the basketball mental toughness in the players in your program.
- Take time every practice to rehearse different pressure situations that arise in games. Having a definite plan that players have practiced will help them focus on what to do under pressure and less on the pressure itself.
- Make it a point of emphasis that bad body language, moping, pouting, displays of disgust with officials, and other negative behaviors are training the players for failure. Correct them any time they occur in practice, games, or in the locker room.
- The coaching staff needs to be a role model of poise and self control. Players will feed off of you and draw confidence from your mental toughness.
- We are always better at things we have had experience and success with. Use the fact that the mind does not differentiate between a real and an imagined experience. Work with your players on visualizing success and performing skills the correct way.
- Do not allow anyone in your program to accept or make excuses. Excuses are permission to give up. Excuses keep us from pushing past our comfort zones which allows us to grow and accomplish new and difficult achievements. Click the following link for more on: Mental Toughness and excuses.
- Point out times in your game films or games you record on TV when a lack of poise and mental toughness by an individual cost a team a chance to win.
- Have some type of phrase you can use when a player makes a mistake to focus them back on mental toughness and what is happening next in the game. A simple phrase such as “Play through it!” can be your signal to them that we need to get on to the next play.
- Teach players when they make a mistake to recognize it, admit it, learn from it so that it doesn’t happen again, and then forget it so that it doesn’t affect any more plays.
- Write down individual and team goals and make committments to attending to the details of accomplishing the goals beyond the current comfort level. Great basketball players and teams practice beyond their comfort zones.
- Commitment to narrow your focus is a major key. Players need to see what they need to do to reach their goals and not be distracted.
- Stick to performance rituals before and during the game. Load your players with performance rituals. It keeps their minds from wandering.
- Eye control. Players and keep their eyes on the court. If a player is looking into the crowd that player is losing focus. The mind follows the eyes.
- Emotional control. Nothing blows up concentration more than losing emotional control. Just as the mind follows the eyes, the emotions follow breathing. If someone is upset, their breathing is shallow. Teach players to lose their temper to take slow deep breaths.
- Stay in the present moment. The most important play in basketball is the one that is happening right now. Human beings tend to not be in the present. We’re either worrying about the past or worrying about the future. Those projections into the future are almost always negative. For example a player standing at the free throw line is thinking “what will happen if a miss the shot?” All these projections into the future are 90% negative in 90% untrue, but it really affects performance. Emphasize two players to keep their minds in the present because that’s where the action is.
- Sports Psychologist Jim Loehr has described “the four emotional markers of mental toughness:”
Emotional Flexibility–The ability to handle different situations in a balanced or nondefensive manner. Emotional flexibility also speaks to the skill of drawing on a wide range of positive emotions–humor, fight spirit, pleasure.
Emotional Responsiveness–You are emotionally engaged in the competitive situation, not withdrawn.
Emotional Strength–The ability to handle great emotional force and sustain your fighting spirit no matter what the circumstances.
Emotional Resiliency–Being able to handle setbacks and recovering quickly from them.