What Mental Toughness Lessons Can We Learn From The Basketball Court?

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When we think about people who are mentally tough, we invariably consider people like Michael Jordon. He is a man with a growth mindset who looks at challenges as an opportunity and is dedicated to committed action and has stickability to his goals.

A good friend of mine and Mental Toughness Partners CEO, Paul Lyons is a basketball fanatic and loves watching his sons play basketball. He recently posted this article which has some fantastic connections between what we can learn on the court and what we can apply to our daily working lives. Go for it Paul……

I was working with a basketball team recently on their mental toughness specifically around recovering from individual and team setbacks. In terms of the team we discussed in particular recovering within the game from a poor quarter performance which had left us behind on the scoreboard.

Each elite sporting team trains and plays to a system with variations to be used in different situations. The temptation for individual players when behind on the scoreboard, is to forget the system and force the play, which invariably results in the team falling even further behind.

It’s hugely important for the whole team, whether on the court or on the bench, to come together to remain positive, focused on the current play and to not be distracted by the scoreboard or the clock. It is easy for players to be negative and impatient at their team mates’ poor passes or wayward shots when positivity, encouragement, focus and adherence to the system is what is required.

Whilst the system doesn't work every time, if it's a good system and well executed it will work more often than not.

This has so many parallels in the corporate world of work too. In the face of a difficult period of distractions, setbacks and daily grind, adhering to a trusted personal routine or corporate process helps provide a focus and a series of automatic goals. The familiarity of the process provides a safe environment which reduces the fear and emotion and provides clarity and confidence.

I read an article by mental toughness coach, Shane McGowan from MentalEdge Performance, where he tackled the difficult topic of how to respond in the right way when you are benched – a difficult and public setback in basketball.

Here is Shane’s advice:

When you are a starter and get benched, it comes as quite a shock. There is often no warning when you are benched even when you might be having a bad game, an off night or a previous competition where you under-performed.

However, it is especially important to be mentally prepared when you are benched. So when you are benched and forced to face adversity, you have a great opportunity to develop the skill of mental toughness. If you have the wrong mental approach, you are left with nothing but bitterness, and of course it hurts to be benched—nobody likes or wants that! So allow yourself a short amount of time to sort through those feelings.

Then ask yourself:

  • “What can I learn from being benched?”
  • “How can I use this situation to improve my game?”
  • “What can I contribute to the team even while on the sidelines?”

Being on the bench may give you a different perspective on competing. You may see things in other players that you can add to your game. You can examine how other athletes approach the game and handle mistakes. You can learn from other players’ mistakes. You can see the speed of the game from a different view.

Instead of taking it personally when you do get benched, see it as an opportunity to improve your game.

View Shane’s article

Shane’s advice also has parallels in the corporate world around being benched. Being “demoted” from your position is a bigger and different issue and so for most people, the similarity will be around taking feedback. In almost all circumstances the best approach is to be gracious (even though you might not be feeling it) and stay objective. Then reflect and learn from the feedback and look for ways to adapt and improve your approach for next time.