This week, I wanted to talk about toughness. I was at a basketball tournament last weekend in Detroit with a local basketball team and we did not perform well. I was speaking to our coach on the ride back to Toronto and he mentioned to me a post by Jay Bilas a few years back on ‘toughness’. After taking a look, I decided I should share a few thoughts of my own as well.

Macho man have always liked to brag about having bigger muscles, bigger legs, stronger kicks, biggest punch and all the other physical attributes that come courtesy of quote on quote ‘body builders’. The same goes for basketball. In fact, the word toughness gets thrown around so much that it becomes cliché too often. ‘This player is SO tough’ or ‘this player is the toughest I have ever coached’ are sentences often heard on TV broadcast and interviews. What people don’t know is that this does NOT refer to body strength uniquely. There are many aspects and characteristics that TRUE TOUGH basketball players possess. I want to take the time to emphasize three of them today.


It is incredibly frustrating for coaching staffs to draw up a play requiring single or multiple screening actions only for the play to be completely shot down after the first 3 seconds because the screen was not properly set. Tough players screen hard and emphasize point of contact with the defender and proper screening angles. This is not directed only at big men but at entire basketball rosters. Slipping a screen should only be done when the play explicitly states it or if there is clear over-help from the defender on the screen. A tough player does not roll to the basket early just trying to score. A tough player does not fail to connect on drag or flair screens. A tough player gets his teammates open which in turn will leave him open later in the same play or later in the game


One thing that I’ve found disheartening is teams that lacked communication on defence. Let’s take a more deliberate example. All pickup adepts will undoubtedly recognize themselves in this situation. When playing basketball with friends or at a local community centre, it’s incredibly hard to win games when there is no defensive talk. Guys get lost in transition and on back-door cuts. When a teammate doesn’t tell you about a screen coming and a bucket is scored, it is definitely one of the most frustrating instances. Imagine it at a elite college or professional level? Same concepts applied. Teams that are constantly communicating can be on the same page and are less susceptible to defensive breakdown. You can see it while watching games on TV by the gesticulating and arm waving of players. It is even more obvious when attending a game at any level in person. Loud teams that communicate have each other’s back and have a much better chance at success. Nobody can have eyes all around their head and everyone must lean on each other at some point in the possession. If your team doesn’t talk often, build special exercise drills designed ONLY to accomplish that purpose. There has never been a good basketball defensive team that did not talk and there never will.


This is by far my favourite one. It is so easy to get down on yourself, to linger over negative thoughts, feelings, fears or anxieties. A key miss open layup during the game, a dubious foul call, a mind-boggling turnover in transition all take place at crucial times of games and are all obstacles a basketball team must deal with regularly. Watching the pros doing it TV or even live and person, I feel that we have a tendency to robotize them and forget how they deal with those human emotions real-time. A great player makes a tough shot. You have to go back and make a play yourself and that will not take place unless you focus on the next play and not linger on the immediate past. I was reading an article on mental toughness and it mentioned that adversity should not be faced. It should be EMBRACED or even welcomed. Don’t try to ignore the tough challenging moments but welcome them with both arms open wide. Do not linger on negative talk and thoughts but replace it with positive feelings and emotions. Remind yourself of good successful moments and visualize future success to come on the play or the next series of plays.


Finally, I want to conclude by emphasizing a few quick points about toughness. Playing hard is often praised when a player dives on the floor after loose balls. I would like to submit to all readers that diving on a floor should be done with purpose and not mindlessly. The goal is to retrieve and secure the ball for your team, not to look good for the cameras or the scouts. If the ball is going out of bounds, dive on an angle and try to tap it off your opponent. If there is a 50/50 ball in the middle of the paint, aim towards the sidelines and not the top of the key because it is less likely to lead to a complete defensive breakdown. Effort deserves acknowledgement, but smart effort deserves praise. On pick and roll defensive coverages, players should have both feet anchored at the proper angle following coaching staff instructions and acoid getting split. This leads to zone and coverage breakdowns leaving players open near the basket for dunks and shooters for long-range bombs that absolutely will swing momentum. Make it a challenge, priority, and absolute non-negotiable that players can’t get through on pick and roll hedges.

For even more ideas and a thoughts for coaches and players to discuss with their team, I want to strongly encourage you to consult Jay Bilas’ article from a few years back.

Be unflappable, BE TOUGH!!!

Piece by Josué Sédjro – Twitter: @JoshuaHemsky

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