Mental Toughness

Mental Toughness
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5 seconds left on the clock, and your team is down by one point. The coach calls a time-out and goes over the last play of the game. The outcome of the game basically relies on this one play, the final play. The crowd is going crazy.Too much tension in the air. The game is on the line. How much do you want the ball in your hands at this crucial moment? For the ones quietly freaking out inside worrying about blowing it and embarrassing themselves, not at all I suppose.

Pressure in any game is inevitable. Everyone wants to win and as a result a lot of effort and energy goes into the game.  How do you bounce back from missed shots and mistakes in general such that they don’t have an impact on the whole game? So you fell victim to a crossover, what to do? Fake an injury perhaps? Laugh ? Sulk? Pick yourself up and get in line? Many players perform below their potential because they cannot tolerate making mistakes and never learn how to let them go. They mentally beat themselves up and end up killing their self-confidence. Then there is the free throw line, where you have absolutely no physical obstacle. There is however the crowd, team mates and coach expectations, besides the noise.  Now weigh all these factors against your free throw shooting percentage.

How you handle a game coming from the bench is determined a lot by state of the mind. Considering you get limited minutes every game, you worry about making mistakes. Players sit on the bench and fuss about not getting enough play time. When finally put in, they’re mentally not ready and can’t get in the flow. As a result they play poorly and are quickly benched again. Mentally tough people are ready; do not battle with performance fears. They get in line and perform to their potential. They play such that you cannot make a distinction between a starter and a bench player. In most cases, it is not that a player is not good but that they lack the character and toughness. It is what differentiates the starter from the bench player.

As a player or coach, how do you handle correction and/or criticism? Do you walk away feeling dejected or keep your head up and try to do better? You could have actually done it right but do you keep on arguing or be the bigger person? The problem with dwelling on criticism is that it eventually erodes self-confidence and contributes to negative energy in a team.

How teams recover from the bottom is also highly influenced by this trait. We have seen teams recover from a 20 point deficit to win a game, underdogs fighting to win a game that everyone believed that they had no chance at. These are the people who do not buy into that hype. They believe in themselves and that they can win.

Your basketball skills and moves on the court are only as good as your head. Your physical game is always limited by your mental one. Trust your skills. This is how you play well. Too many basketball players try too hard, forcing themselves to play well because “the crowd is watching.” Maybe it is to impress the coach, or that special someone, or it is because it is a big game, too crucial to lose. Truth is, “Trying” to play well will always get you playing terrible. You have that great game inside of you but it will only come out if you relax, and not try to force it.

Mental toughness does indeed give teams the competitive edge yet it is more often overlooked as players focus on training the body and not the mind. If you want an edge, you have to train your mind and body.

The writer is a player in the Kenya Basketball Premier League. If you want to blog for us send an email to




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