The Frozen Tundra and Basketball Toughness

Bart StarrAs the Packers prepared for another icy playoff game against the 49ers, I heard a phone interview with Bart Starr, one of my true childhood heroes who scored the winning touchdown against Dallas in the 1967 Ice Bowl. Bart was asked how players can perform in such conditions and his response had me once again connecting dots between sports and life:

“It’s amazing how mentally tough we can be when we have to be.  We have been given the capacity to do that – to block out everything around us and focus on the most important thing.”

The capacity for mental toughness is in each of us, whether it’s in dealing with arctic temperatures, insurmountable odds in a basketball game, or forgiving the unforgivable!

BASKETBALL – Mental Toughness

Cameron CraziesAs we discussed in an article on The Splash Brothers last year, Jay Bilas from ESPN has written the quintessential book, Toughness, in which he provides practical truths about how to play tough on the floor.  His Toughness List is so good, that it’s worth a weekly review!  Also, our friends at the Coaching Toolbox have some great resources for developing mental toughness like A Plan of Action and Mental Toughness for Basketball.  They have plenty of material to dig deeper into developing mental toughness including this Mental Toughness Assessment that can be helpful for coaches and players.

As Starr said, we each are capable of blocking things out – the obvious, external things like cold weather or crowd noise, but more importantly, dealing with the internal factors that develop in our minds.  To me, one of the best examples from the 49ers’ win was not how the teams dealt with the cold, but how Colin Kapernick put aside a mistake he made that should have been a game-clinching interception by Micah Hyde of the Packers and drove his team to their winning field goal.  While mental toughness involves blocking things out, you still have to recognize the importance of those factors and take necessary steps to overcome them.  While Bart Starr blocked out the cold in 1967, he also knew he had to focus on ball security and while Colin Kapernick pushed aside a poor decision, he also knew he had to eliminate risk and use his feet to move his team.  The same is true on the court.  Mental toughness is more than just blocking out external factors.  It’s the ability to deal with our thoughts about those factors and to respond with the necessary actions to deal with the conditions.

LIFE – Mental toughness requires emotional toughness.

While Starr was right about blocking things out, Sports Psychologist Jim Loehr shows us that toughness is not simply forgetting.  We also have to properly deal with our emotions.  He describes “the four emotional markers of mental toughness:”

Emotional Flexibility–The ability to handle different situations in a balanced or nondefensive manner. Emotional flexibility also speaks to the skill of drawing on a wide range of positive emotions–humor, fight spirit, pleasure.

Emotional Responsiveness–You are emotionally engaged in the competitive situation, not withdrawn.

Emotional Strength–The ability to handle great emotional force and sustain your fighting spirit no matter what the circumstances.

Emotional Resiliency–Being able to handle setbacks and recovering quickly from them.

DistractionThink about areas in your life where you need to be tougher.  Maybe it’s a need to focus more on your studies or to stick with a fitness plan or to handle social situations better.  Maybe you need to get better control of your finances.  You can’t just block out the external pressures.  You have to deal with the emotions and you have to deal with negative factors.  Don’t push them aside.  Don’t ignore them.  Deal with them!

FAITH – The difficulty with forgiveness.

In my faith journey, the concept of forgiveness has been difficult for me to grasp, yet it’s at the core of what I believe as a Christian.  God loves me so much that He has forgiven every sin and mistake in my life and because of that, He grants me eternal life with Him when this world ends:

Bear with each other and forgive one another if any of you has a grievance against someone. Forgive as the Lord forgave you.  (Colossians 3:13)

I know that and I believe that, so it would seem logical that I should be able to forgive those people in my life who have wronged or hurt me.  I’m finding it requires both mental and emotional toughness.  Forgiveness is not simply “forgetting” things that others have done.  It involves wiping the slate clean and no longer holding it against the person who has hurt you.  That’s the tough part!  You may be able to block it out like cold weather or a crowd trying to distract a free throw, but you still have to deal with it.  God does give us the capacity to do that, although I’ve found in my life that I can’t do it nearly as well as He can.  I may be able to block things out, even forget, but I still have to deal with the results of other people’s actions like a father who left us, an employer who made changes, and a friend who really didn’t have my best interests at heart.  Those real-life things have not just hurt my feelings, they’ve shaped my life and the conditions for my family!

Forgiveness, true forgiveness that only God can provide, wipes the slate clean.  To live as Christ lives, though, requires me to toughen up and deal with the internal thoughts that lead to holding grudges.  I don’t know about you, but that’s a daily battle that I can only win when I stay in constant communication with the one who has forgiven me – of everything!

For help with learning how to forgive, take a look at a great book that was recommended to me a few years ago, Let it Go, by Pastor T.D. Jakes.  Let me know if it impacts you as much as it did me!