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Coaching insights and strategies: Getting mentally tough

   Editor's note: This column is the part of an occasional series by Skeet Whitlow offering coaching insights and strategies.

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   After observing, teaching, and training players intensely over my coaching career at all levels of competitive basketball, I encourage you to step back and think differently about the way you approach basketball going forward.

   I learned a very long time ago that there is one undeniable fact: What separates the average from the above average and the exceptionally gifted players is not genetics or raw athleticism, but their mental approach both in practice and -- most importantly -- in the actual competitive event.

   What exceptionally gifted athletes do that separates them from the pack are those basketball players who mentally focus on a higher level, play intelligent basketball, and make good decisions way above the average. But most importantly they get the absolute maximum out of their skill set on an ever-increasing and consistent basis.

   Simply put, that is the difference.

   I often try to teach my players to think outside the box of their existing abilities, practice to get their fundamental skills up, but most importantly to begin to play this wonderful and emotional sport on a whole new mental level than ever before. By accepting this approach their mental awareness plus overall performance and productivity goes up to another level.

   Those players who really "get it" and "work on it" can make significant improvements in their performance levels.

   What I am talking about is "mental toughness." Mental toughness is the ability to consistently perform toward the upper range of your talent and skill level regardless of competitive circumstances.

   It is a learned behavior. It is acquired just the same way skills are learned in shooting a free throw or jump shot. Not having it means that you have not learned it yet.

   Start learning and working on it now is what I tell my players.

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   Dr. James Loehr, one of the world's leading sports psychology authorities, describes in his book that mental toughness is what he calls Ideal Perform- ance State Control (IPS). An IPS exists for every athlete. It is simply the optimal physical and mental arousal for performing at your peak level. Arousal is reflected in heart rate, muscle tension, brain wave frequency, blood pressure, as well as a host of other measures.

   It is accompanied by a highly distinctive pattern of feelings and emotions -- a most fascinating discovery. You are most likely to experience IPS and perform at your peak level when you feel the following:

  • Confident
  • Relaxed and calm
  • Focused and alert
  • Automatic and instinctive
  • Energized with positive emotion challenged
  • Ready for fun and enjoyment


Columnist Skeet Whitlow     Skeet Whitlow has a BA in Psychology from Barton College and did graduate work at Duke University. He is a Western New York resident who has been involved in basketball consulting and coaching at a variety of levels as well as working as an executive business professional and entrepreneur.

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