Updated: Oct 10, 2022
As a coach we all want players who embody toughness. And although I’ve spent much time talking about this subject on the Lockdown Defense Podcast and in the Lockdown Defense Book, some of it bares repeating.
Defense might be more than heart, effort and hustle, but those aspects are still major parts of the equation. When you think of great defenders, there are clearly high levels of passion and toughness radiating off of them. Toughness is crucial not only from a physical standpoint - being able to take charges, battle for position, hold your ground, dive for loose balls and so much more, but toughness is also crucial from a mental standpoint.
As a great defender, you will get scored on. You may get crossed and you may get scored over, especially when starting your journey. But great defenders never get deterred or defeated. Great shot blockers aren’t afraid to get dunked on. Great pressure defenders aren’t afraid to get shook. It is the acceptance of this fear, not the denial of it, that allows them to be great. Because at the end of the day, embarrassment doesn’t show up in the scoreboard.
You have to have the confidence and courage to put yourself in positions to make plays, not hide from them. Just as great shooters bounce back from a missed shot, “I’ll make the next one,” the same mindset is within a great defender. You give up one basket, “I’ll lockdown the next.”
From a psychology perspective, to help overcome this fear of failure or embarrassment we need to acclimate our players to the worst-case scenarios, contingency plans and potential outcomes. In a defensive domain, these are quite simple. Look, great defenders get beat from time to time:
Those are two defensive players of the year: Marcus Smart falling down and KG getting dunked over. The worst-case scenarios can happen, even to the greats. But the great thing about these moments - they are still worth only two points. KG kept trying to block shots at the rim, Smart continued to pressure the ball handlers.
In fact, getting beat might not even result in a made basket in some cases. We have help, we have rotations. And as coaches we need to let our players know, you won't come out for anything like this, the whole team's got your back. However you will come out for ducking the situation - being afraid to rotate in help, not impacting the ball. Those should mean more than your ego.
My favorite definition of mental toughness is being able to do the next correct thing. We need defenders who are not only physically tough, but mentally tough. I don't know who needs to hear this article, but if you know a player that could use it, please share it with them.