Statistics are kept for almost every facet of the game; from metrics on quickness, agility, assist to turnover ratios, points, offensive rebounds, defensive rebounds, steals, and the list goes on. Many smart coaches also track the mental toughness traits of their team during the pre-season and also in-season. As is commonly said, “mental toughness does not guarantee you a championship, but a lack of mental toughness is guaranteed to lose you a championship.”
So what are some of the mental toughness variables that should be tracked? The following four areas of mental toughness are an excellent gauge of the mental makeup of any team: 1) Ability to sustain intensity 2) Commitment to excellence/passion for the game 3) Clutch poise/Clutch confidence 4) Ability to execute game strategy – regardless of opponent. A great exercise for any team is for the coach to rate each player on each facet of mental toughness on a 1 – 10 scale, and then rate the entire team on the same scale. Players should also rate themselves, and the coach should set some collective goals for improvement. This exercise should be repeated multiple times throughout the season.
Exploring the toughness traits
Ability to sustain intensity: Anyone can work hard at the beginning of practice or a game. Championship teams and players find a way to shift their intensity gear even higher during the latter parts of the game when fatigue levels are sometimes at their worst.
Commitment to excellence/passion for the game: Though I am a big believer in ‘balance’ in the life of any athlete (i.e., balancing athletics with academics or family/social life), I am also a huge believer in a level of commitment to the game that extends beyond mandatory practice. Shooting an extra 300 jump shots and 100 FTs outside of practice is never an issue for the player who truly loves the game and has a vision of excellence that includes multiple championships.
Clutch poise/Clutch confidence: Truly great players consistently perform well under pressure and in the clutch situations that often dictate the outcome of a game. This does not mean that they succeed in every clutch situation, but it does mean that they are not afraid to fail. This type of athlete wants the ball or wants to guard the best player on the opposing team on critical possessions. In short, these are the players who are consistently at their best when it counts the most.
Ability to execute game strategy – regardless of opponent: It is no secret that the most talented teams in the conference do not always win the conference, and dare I say it… the team that ‘wants to win the most’ does not always win either. The team that executes the game plan and puts the ball in the hoop more times than the opponent gets the win – period. This is not to minimize the importance of desire, but rather to underscore the importance of discipline and executing game strategy. Some teams are negatively affected by highly ranked opponents or big crowds. Mentally tough teams and players are disciplined and unselfish, and they consistently execute the game strategy with poise and confidence, regardless of the opponent or situation.