How to Be Mentally Tough in Basketball

basketball mindset Nov 09, 2022
mental toughness basketball

Develop mental toughness and be unstoppable on the court

Mental toughness is what separates the good basketball players from the GREAT basketball players.

Being mentally tough is a quality and a mindset that not all basketball players have. But for those who are looking to get an edge on their competition and play at the highest level they can, then mental toughness is essential.

Read on to learn what it is, why it's so important in basketball, the characteristics of a mentally tough player, and how to actually go about developing mental toughness.

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What is Mental Toughness?

Mental toughness is the ability to stay locked in and play your best when facing a difficult scenario, challenge, or adversity.

As basketball players, there are so many potential obstacles that can hold us back from playing our best basketball.

But when you're mentally tough, you don't let those things hold you down. You lock in, focus on the task at hand, and play elite level basketball anyway.

Maybe you're feeling tired, stressed, or nervous. Maybe you're going up against a formidable opponent. Or maybe your team is down 10 with only a few minutes to play in a championship game.

With mental toughness, you are able to stay focused in scenarios like these and continue to play your best basketball despite whatever challenge you're facing.

Not only can mentally strong basketball players play well when faced with something difficult, they can play even better than usual.

They can unlock a hidden level of play that seems to be triggered when their back is against the wall. It's like they have an extra gear.

When you are mentally strong, challenge does not bother you. Pressure does not bother you. And neither does failure.

You have the focus, the self-belief, and the confidence to overcome anything and to play your best basketball no matter what. You are resilient and nothing is going to stop you from achieving what you want on the basketball court.

Missing a shot or turning the ball over will not keep you down. You're able to bounce back.

Read also: How To Have A Mamba Mentality >>



Why is Mental Toughness Important in Basketball?

Mental toughness is important in basketball because it helps you to be a better player.

In games and throughout your basketball season, you are always going to face challenging situations, adversity, and other things that are out of your control or are uncomfortable.  

Basketball players who are mentally tough are able to thrive and succeed through those difficulties. They are comfortable being uncomfortable.

Players who are not as mentally strong are going to see their performance suffer. Or those players are going to quit trying altogether when faced with something difficult.

If you aren't mentally strong enough to handle pressure, then you won't play as well in clutch moments. You might even be afraid to take a game-winning shot or shoot game-winning free throws.

If you don't have the mental fortitude to bounce back from a rough shooting night, then that might snow-ball into an even longer shooting cold streak.

And if you aren't mentally strong enough to deal with criticism or trash-talk or booing fans, then those things will distract you and make your performance on the court suffer.

These are just a few of the reasons why it's so important to be mentally strong in basketball. It helps you to stay confident in your abilities, stay focused, stay calm under pressure, and so much more.

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7 Ways to be Mentally Tough in Basketball

Here are 7 ways to exhibit mental toughness in basketball.

  1. Move on quickly after missing a shot - it's ok to be frustrated for a second or two but then let it go. Maintain confidence that you will make your next shot.
  2. Move on quickly after making a mistake or committing a turnover - same as above, it's ok to be frustrated but then let it go. Don't let the frustration linger. That's only going to affect you negatively. Turn your attention to the next play instead. Turn your frustration into motivation to be even better on the next play. Find a way to make up for your mistake.
  3. Treat pressure situations like any other moment - embrace the pressure. See it as a fun opportunity.
  4. Be resilient in the face of failure - lose a big game? Get cut from a team? Lose your starting gig? Don't let failure hold you down. Really there's no such thing as failure, just feedback. Use your experience to learn and grow from and come out a better basketball player. Be even more motivated to succeed your next time around.
  5. Embrace challenge - down big in a game? Have a "we can always come back" mentality. Going up against a stronger opponent? Prove the critics wrong by out-playing that person. See challenge as something fun and understand that no matter the outcome, it will always make you better and stronger in the long run.
  6. Don't make excuses - always accept responsibility (this also means don't get caught up in bad calls by the referees! Unfortunately that is going to happen and we can't control it)
  7. Find other ways to contribute even if you aren't playing well - having a rough shooting day? Become a play-maker. A lock-down defender. Anything to help your team win.

Read also: How to Mentally Prepare for a Basketball Game (5-Step Routine) >>



How to Develop Mental Toughness

When it comes to improving your mental toughness, really what it comes down to is building confidence and resilience.

This can be done by working hard, putting yourself in challenging situations in drills, and by using other mental training techniques like visualization. 

Put in the work

Mental strength requires a high level of confidence. Confidence comes from preparation and hard work.

Which means, if you want to develop mental toughness, you have to work hard on your game everyday. Get shots up, work on your ballhandling, your finishing, your mental game, etc.

Focus on improving just a little bit each day in at least one area of your game and over time that improvement will be very noticeable.

Your confidence will continue to improve a little bit each day too. You'll know that you deserve to be a great basketball player because of all the work you put in.

When you work hard outside of games, then when you get into a game you're going to feel like you deserve to succeed.

Of course you deserve to succeed. Of course you deserve to play well. You've worked your butt off in the gym day after day. You deserve every bit of success that comes your way.

So then, when you're in a game and you're facing a difficult situation, your mental strength will kick in and you're going to believe that you deserve to succeed in that situation because you've put in the work.

To improve your mental toughness - improve your confidence. To improve your confidence - work, work, work.


Challenge yourself in drills

Another part of being mentally strong is not wavering in the face of adversity. Not giving in or backing down.

A way to strengthen this part of your mindset is to put yourself in challenging situations in practice. Get used to facing a difficult situation. Make your drills something that will challenge you and make you uncomfortable and make you have to fight through.

How do you become more mentally tough in basketball games? Well, work on becoming more mentally tough in practice and in drills. 

Here are some ways to challenge your mind in drills:

For shooting drills, set a challenging target:

  • you have to make a certain percentage of your shots
  • you have to make a certain number of shots in a row
  • make a certain number of shots without missing two in a row

For ballhandling drills:

  • have someone pressuring you while you do the drill
  • have them foul you on purpose and slap at your arms and wrists to make you uncomfortable

For finishing drills:

  • have someone foul you while you finish
  • also, use the same concepts you used above for shooting drills

Build mental toughness and resilience by working on it in practice and it will soon carry over into games.


Play against stronger competition

A great way to build mental strength is to play against a higher level of competition.

Play against older players. Play against bigger players. Play against people who are more skilled than you.

Facing a big challenge like this will surely challenge your mental fortitude.

Not only will this help you become more mentally tough, but it will show you where you need to improve your game.

Playing against stronger competition will show you your strengths, but also your weaknesses. And you can use that as a lesson to show you what you need to continue working on.


Use visualization

Visualization is when you close your eyes and you imagine yourself doing something in your mind's eye.

In basketball terms, it means closing your eyes and picturing yourself playing basketball, imagining yourself on the court practicing or playing in a game.

Studies have shown that getting mental reps through visualization is an effective way to prepare for and get better at something.

With that in mind, use visualization to imagine yourself in a difficult scenario that would require you to be mentally tough to have success in.

For example, visualize yourself at the end of a game, down 2 and you take the potential game-winning 3. Imagine yourself being confident in this moment. Imagine yourself being calm and poised.

And finally, in your mind's eye, see yourself shoot the ball and watch it as it goes through the net. Feel how satisfying that is.

Visualization is an easy way to practice being mentally tough and all it takes is a few minutes. It is a great addition to your pregame mindset routine. Squeeze in visualization practice when you first wake up, right before bed, or on the bus on the way to a game or in the locker room before a game.

Listen: Pregame Guided Visualization for Basketball Players >> 


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