Mental Toughness for the 2nd Half

This post contains some of my takeaways from Texas A&M Women’s Assistant Bob Starkey’s Coaching Blog. IMO, his Hoop Thoughts Blog should be on your regular reading list for basketball coaches!

With most teams being back in school and in their conference play or getting close to the second half of the season, here are some mental toughness thoughts to help your teams finish the season strong:

This first section is from Texas A&M men’s basketball staff and Coach Mitch Cole. To sign up for his email list, email Coach Cole at Mitch Cole and ask him to put you on the list.

Here are the Aggie thoughts on peak performance as we head down the stretch. This time of year, everyone is searching for the best ways to get their teams to play at peak performance in February/March. Every staff asks the questions:

What is the best way to prepare our players for a late season run? What is our strategy if our team is favored and playing well?… Or what if our team is the overwhelming underdog? What approach is best when our team is inconsistent, good one game and poor the next?

The following are a few concepts that are some helpful reminders to stress to our players in February, regardless of where our teams rank in the standings:


This month is the reason you (the player) work so hard in the off-season. Don’t have a mindset of “I can’t wait for the off-season.” You are working for February (and March) when you spend countless hours in an empty gym the other 10 months of the year. Stay in the moment. The time is now!


Regardless of the final outcomes of games, ask the question, “Are we improving in certain areas?” For good teams, “are we eliminating mistakes that could cost us when the competition gets tighter?” For struggling teams, “are we seeing improvement and building toward a successful culture/program?”


Some educational researchers have defined GRIT as “passion and perseverance to achieve long term goals”. When struggles come, do you get more DEJECTED or more DETERMINED?

Studies have shown that the attribute of GRIT, is one of the most powerful indicators of success. The most GRITTY people usually succeed on and off the court.


-Teams can become selfish during good times and turn on each other during tough times. Teams that stay together can resist the temptation to be selfish, can withstand tough times, and even conquer insurmountable odds. I love this clip of the movie Gladiator.

Is it possible that a more “together” team could be worth 1 point in a game? Have you ever won or lost a game by just 1 point?


Most people can appreciate a team or athletes that refuse to give up no matter what the circumstance. Resilience is the ability to bounce back from difficulty and in some cases, be better than before. This can happen when the other team goes on a run and things look most bleak, or even within a season. Teams that “Fight” and show tremendous Resilience over and over again have the best chance for sustained success.

Here are more thoughts on teamwork from Pat Summitt. They come from Coach Greg Brown who has wrote a book about Coach Summitt and Coach Don Meyer, whom he both worked for. The book is called The Best Things I’ve Seen in Coaching. You can find out a little more about it at this link: The Best Things I’ve Seen in Coaching

“Teamwork is not a matter of persuading yourself and your colleagues to set aside personal ambitions for the greater good. It’s a matter of recognizing that your personal ambitions and the ambitions of the team are one and the same. That’s the incentive.”

“Teamwork is not created by like-mindedness. It’s an emotional cohesion that develops from mutual respect and reciprocity and from coping with good times and adversity.”

“To me, the greatest reward for being a team player, far outweighing any personal gain, is that it means you will never be alone. Think about that. Life has enough lonely times in store for all of us. The wonderful thing about partnership is that it halves your sorrow and compounds your joys. When you are pressure, your teammates will only multiply it. The amount of success you are capable of enjoying and the pleasure you are capable of feeling, is equal to the number of people you are willing to share it with.”

Winners they get knocked down, winners get up, champions get up a little faster.

“Being relentless means constantly working for that result, not just when drama is on the line. Clutch is about the last minute. Relentless is about every minute.” -Tim Grover From “Relentless: From Good to Great to Unstoppable”

I was fascinated by the following tweet from Eric Musselman: @EricMusselman

U of Penn study found that “grit” (passion & perseverance for long-term goals) is best predictor of success. “Grit is unrelated w/ talent.”

I retweeted it of course but found myself very interested in the finding so, as we all do these days — I Googled it. In doing so, I found the actual report from the Duckworth Lab at the University of Pennsylvania. There is a long research statement that you can read in its entirety here but below are some excerpts that I found interesting.

The Duckworth Lab focuses on two traits that predict success in life: grit and self-control. Grit is the tendency to sustain interest in and effort toward very long-term goals. Self-control is the voluntary regulation of behavioral, emotional, and attentional impulses in the presence of momentarily gratifying temptations or diversions. On average, individuals who are gritty are more self-controlled, but the correlation between these two traits is not perfect: some individuals are paragons of grit but not self-control, and some exceptionally well-regulated individuals are not especially gritty. While we haven’t fully worked out how these two traits are related, it seems that an important distinction has to do with timescale: As Galton suggested, the inclination to pursue especially challenging aims over months, years, and even decades is distinct from the capacity to resist “the hourly temptations,” pursuits which bring momentary pleasure but are immediately regretted.

In terms of Big Five personality, grit and self-control both load on the conscientiousness factor, which also encompasses dependability, punctuality, and orderliness, among other facets.

Some educators typically prefer the umbrella term “social and emotional learning,” whereas many other educators, as well as philosophers and positive psychologists, embrace the moral connotations of “character” and “virtue.” So, grit and self-control are facets of Big Five conscientiousness, but are also conceptualized as dimensions of human character, social and emotional competency, and non-cognitive human capital.

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