“What Impresses a Coach” – A Letter to Athletes on Toughness



“Dear Player:

I am glad you have worked to build skills, and skills will serve you well when you are on the floor competing against other talented athletes… but it is not skill alone that separates successful achievers from the mediocre masses.

The greatest divider of players in basketball, or in business, is toughness.

If you were an office manager, it would be nice to have people with terrific skills – but if you had an employee who was very skilled and experienced, but who also whined and complained or was negative or didn’t work hard consistently, that employee would hold back your team’s success.

Skills alone will impress very few people, actually.

Smart leaders and teammates want someone who has the character and discipline and persistence to fight through difficulties and obstacles and unexpected delays and still find a way to get it done.

And resilience is nothing more than saying to yourself in the midst of adversity that “I can handle it… I will figure it out.”

There are very few problems in life that will not crumble under the pressure of your persistence and determination to overcome them.  Having skills is important, and is required to excel in any area – but it is not the thing that most impresses me.

What impresses me is toughness and playing hard through adversity

What impresses me is taking responsibility for mistakes instead of making excuses

What impresses me is grit and resilience and perseverance

What impresses me is talking loud and playing hard and encouraging teammates

What impresses me is shaking your fist instead of dropping your chin

The best thing about sports is that they offer opportunities to learn from and overcome adversity… they teach how to play through bad referee calls, and turnovers, and stay focused on what you control

Sports offer lessons on how to handle working with other people, and how to handle the temptation of contentment that comes with a little taste of success.  They provide a tremendous collection of lessons for people to develop as leaders and teammates

Athletics also teach us that even if you have dropped your chin in the past, or failed to persevere, or not been proud of how you handle adversity – there is usually another opportunity to change your behavior and learn and improve and shake your fist instead to build a different reputation.

There are many things in sports, as in life, that we cannot control – but we can control our attitudes and our preparation and our responses to adversity and our voices and our efforts and out focus. 

It is important to admit when you do something you don’t want to be known for.

But it is even more important that you take advantage of opportunities to act differently.

If you start down a destructive or disappointing path, you can turn around and sprint back in the right direction and change your reputation by changing your behaviors in the middle of adversity.

You control what people say in their cars as they drive home.

If you want to impress them, and me, then choose to be the guy who is tough and takes responsibility and keeps playing hard after missed shots or mistakes and encouraged others to do the same.

You impress people by being coachable and confident and committed to building a reputation of toughness.

In basketball, as in life, you will experience adversity and be faced with problems and situations that your skills and knowledge cannot easily overcome.

Weak-minded people see common obstacles as impossible brick walls, but mental toughness turns those brick walls into mere speed bumps that you CAN overcome.

When there is a brick wall in your path, that is when you need toughness.

That is when LEADERS remind themselves, “I can handle it… I will figure it out.”

And you work hard and grind and scratch and claw and fight and remain tenacious and passionate and get over it or through it or around it.

It will not be skill that gets you further up the path to the top of your mountain.

It will be toughness.

Tough people overcome whatever they encounter.  Tough people succeed.

Toughness impresses me.”



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