Behaviors of Mental Toughness

For an athlete to truly develop mental toughness, it must be engrained in all components of the player’s makeup.  In a series of articles on the USA Basketball web site, author Spencer Wood writes that coaches should create an improvement plan for their athletes around the four "C's"—Composure, Concentration, Confidence and Commitment.  Wood notes that there's a 5th "C" – Character, which in many ways is also connected to mental toughness—that completes the full and essential mental makeup of the player.

Wood believes that a players with supreme mental toughness demonstrate the following “toughness behaviors” and coaches should continually reinforce these behaviors.

The Mentally Tough Player Digs Deep.  The athlete finds a way to take it up another level when they are challenged, such as during the final stretches of a conditioning drill or late in the game when every player is desired.

The Mentally Tough Player is Never Afraid to Fail or is Never Afraid of Adversity.  Wood writes that the Mentally Tough Athlete believes “that failure is just a temporary frustration that must be quickly replaced with a new determination to plan to do better, and to follow that plan to be better.  As Wood writes, “Failure can temporarily hurt, but mentally tough players believe that failure is an opportunity to learn, grow and improve.”

The Mentally Tough Player Respects the Referee’s Calls without Complaining. The athlete accepts all referee decisions and shows no emotion in reacting to a call.  As soon as the referee makes a call, the Mentally Tough Player immediately focuses on the next play.

The Mentally Tough Player Wins and Loses with Class. The mentally tough player is respectful and gracious to opponents after winning a game, and displays the same amount of respect to an opponent after a loss.  And whether or not the opponent displays the same level of class is a non-factor.

The Mentally Tough Player Will Go the Extra Mile, Even When No One is Watching. The athlete enjoys getting to practice early and then staying 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.

The Mentally Tough Player Works Hard to be a Great Listener.  Wood writes that “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.

The Mentally Tough Player Works Hard to be one of the Best Encouragers.  The athlete is always looking to boost the confidence of teammates by encouraging them after they’ve turned the ball over and praising them after they’ve made a big play.

The Mentally Tough Player Constantly Reviews their Own Performance. The athlete routinely spends a few minutes after every practice and every game thinking about what he or she can do to play even better at the next practice or game.  Wood writes that “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.