Sunday, January 24, 2010

Great players define and embrace toughness

From the Evansville Courier Press, January 24, 2010

Jay Bilas has a great reference point when it comes to competing at a high level of sports — he played basketball at Duke University, and after his playing career ended, joined Coach Mike Krzyzewski's coaching staff. He has since parlayed his playing and coaching career into a role as one of ESPN's top college basketball analysts.

He wrote an article on last year ( bilas_jay&id=3868904) that still draws references 12 months later. It hit on a topic that every coach stresses with players — toughness.

I've been shocked about how many coaches from different sports at all levels had read the article and were able to draw from their own experiences.

"... in almost coordinated fashion, I would watch games and see player upon player thumping his chest after a routine play, angrily taunting an opponent after a blocked shot, getting into a shouting match with an opposing player, or squaring up nose-to-nose as if a fight might ensue," Bilas wrote. " I see players jawing at each other, trying to 'intimidate' other players. What a waste of time. That is nothing more than fake toughness, and it has no real value.

"I often wonder: Do people really understand what coaches and experienced players mean when they emphasize "toughness" in basketball? Or is it just some buzzword that is thrown around haphazardly without clear definition or understanding?"

Bilas said that while he came to college thinking toughness was based on the physical, he realized that it had more to do with the mental. I was always taught that strength could be measured in a weight room, but that toughness was measured by what was inside of you — it wasn't measured in a soccer player's ability to kick someone on the other team, but in his ability to get kicked and keep playing; it was not whether you were knocked down, but in your resolve that allowed you to get back up.

Bilas also referenced that he thought toughness was a skill, and as a skill, could be developed and improved. He even created a list of items that he thought were a way that toughness was exhibited in basketball.

Soccer Journal editor Jay Martin had recently taken the lead from Bilas' article and created his own list of items that displayed toughness in soccer. Some of the key items were:

— Talk on defense: A tough player talks and communicates with teammates while defending, and is so focused on winning that he/she is not only worried about the player that they are guarding, but on helping their teammates as well.

— Play so hard your coach has to take you out: Tough players work so hard that they need to be rested. The toughest players don't pace themselves. Watch the University of North Carolina's women's team —when some of coach Anson Dorrance's players come off the field, they need oxygen. They are a 'tough' team, and it is no coincidence that they compete for a national championship every year.

— Take responsibility for your teammates: Tough players take responsibility for themselves as well as others. If the bus leaves at 9:00 a.m., tough players make sure they and their teammates are on time.

— Get out of the comfort zone: A tough player knows that soccer is a game played when tired and sore. When tough players feel like they don't want to run any longer, they run harder.

— Take and give criticism the right way: Tough players take criticism without feeling they have to answer back or come up with an excuse. They want to get better. Tough players are not afraid to tell teammates what they need to hear.

— Show strength in body language: Tough players project confidence and security. They don't hang their heads; they don't argue with officials. Look coaches and teammates in the eye: Tough players never drop their heads. They always look their coach in the eye, because if the coach is talking, it is important to them.

— Make every game important: Tough players know that if they want to reach a championship game at any level they must play every game like it's a championship game.

As Michigan State basketball coach Tom Izzo says: "Players play the game, but tough players win the game."

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