Jay Bilas, ESPN Analyst and former Duke Blue Devil, authored a very insightful article and then book on the subject of toughness. Jay’s writing brought to light what is in my opinion one of the greatest traits of a player.
To me the three most important traits for a team are toughness, unselfishness and relentlessness. For a team to be truly unselfish and relentless they have to be tough. Toughness allows players to achieve great things. Coach Tom Izzo said it best, “Players play, Tough Players win.”
I don’t believe toughness can be taught within any single drill. Instead, I think toughness is learned as a result of creating a culture with toughness as the centerpiece. Toughness isn’t a sometime thing, it’s an all the time thing. Toughness has to be evident in everything you do as a program.
Toughness isn’t a look, it is an ability. You are either tough or not. There are plays where the presence and absence of toughness are evident but if you are creating a culture of toughness you don’t wait for the 50/50 ball or someone taking a charge. You look for and instill toughness in every drill, every day and in every player.
Players that are tough play without fear and with urgency. A tough player has a willingness to compete without fear of failure and sometimes without fear of injury. Tough players do the dirty work. Loose balls, take charges, block out every time. They play with an urgency that this play is the most important of the game. These are all coachable but more important adaptable to any player. If this type of play is the norm you stop looking for signs of toughness and instead see the players who aren’t producing. More importantly, it becomes evident to their teammates who isn’t willing to sacrifice.
Guys that do their jobs everyday are extremely tough. These are the guys succeeding in class, in practice and on game day.
These players don’t take days off. They don’t take plays off. These are the players who make your practices competitive day in, day out.
Possibly the easiest way to identify if a player is tough or not is by watching them away from the ball. Whether on offense or defense, a tough player is engaged fighting for space early. It’s easy to be engaged when you are guarding the ball or have the ball. Everyone is watching you. But while most everyone else is watching the offensive and defensive player on the ball, there is a game being won or lost off the ball.
Is the player in a stance, bumping cutters, talking? The block/charge is determined here, not by the official. Games are won and lost more often as a result of what happens on the backside of a play where tough players are winning the position battle.