The Truth About Mental Toughness in College Sports...

From University of California Riverside to Stony Brook University to Virginia Commonwealth University, I can say that mental toughness qualifies as the topic of all times!


Every basketball team’s dynamic was based on mental toughness. Team meetings, posters, early mornings of conditioning, fluctuation of playing time, individual meetings with coaches, and the list goes on, just to emphasize the significance of mental toughness.  


"You need to be mentally tough…" "You are not mentally tough…" “You are not tough enough...” "She is mentally tough, that's why she's a great player..."


There were times I wanted to ask: "Hey Coach, are you mentally tough?"


How do you handle your losses? How do you deal with your mistakes? How do you deal with the team’s mistakes? I can recall a number of days that you had decided to be extra mean and super picky during practice. Were those behaviors related to our performance or was it you taking out your problems on us?


Let us let go of basketball. Let's forget about the sport, let's forget about winning and losing. Let's even forget about me. What's your background? How did you grow up? 

What was the worst thing that happened to you as a kid or a teenager?


How would it feel, if for every issue you had, you were recommended counseling? What if every time, you made a mistake or lost a game, someone told you, you are about to lose your job just like when you said I was going to lose my scholarship?


Mental toughness…right? Did you play? Which level did you play in? Matter of fact, disregard the level, what did your scholarship mean to you? What did your sport mean to you?


Was it that you were really talented and had a few offers or did you have to work really hard to get an opportunity to play? Was your sport the only thing that made you happy? Was your sport your only way out? What did it save you from?


You see to me, basketball was more than just a sport. It was the moment that I was finally able to let go of my problems, the issues I faced at home. The court was where I found my peace. The place I cleared my mind. It was the one thing that would not let me down. I knew that when I gave my all to it, it recognized it. I improved, I played better, and playing just felt better and better every single time. Call me an addict. Call it an addiction. Basketball, my sport, was the only thing that made me happy. 


And I came to college. I came to experience the next level, to be pushed, to improve even more, to travel, get a great education, while doing what I love the most. 


And that's where everything changed....


Yes, I know college isn't supposed to be easy. Being a student-athlete isn't easy. And for me personally, being a student-athlete that worked was definitely not easy. But to be honest, taking the easy route was never my thing. If that was the case, I never would have left my comfort zone, my home, Greece.


Discipline, commitment, time-management, budgeting, self-image, reputation, teamwork, hard work, mental toughness, patience, positivity, leadership...values that were always emphasized and will never be forgotten Coach.


But what about understanding Coach? Why not teach and emphasize understanding? Understanding that to some people basketball, or any other sport, is not just a way to stay in shape or exercise. It's not just a way to pay for school. It's my happiness. I know we are a team. I know there's a team of 12 or 15 players that you need to look after. I know we have a culture and that we all represent one school, but our backgrounds are different. We are different. 


There's a person with a heart and feelings underneath this jersey. What's harsh to me may not be harsh to someone else. What motivates someone else may not motivate me. Matter of fact, it may be the reason I lose all my confidence. Stop comparing me and stop trying to utilize the same methodology for all your players.


I come to practice ready to learn something new, ready to grind, escape from over thinking, do what I love, but all I hear is that I'm soft. I am not tough enough. I am spoiled or I act like a baby.  I hear that I'm not like the senior that graduated years ago or that a freshman will come in and take my spot. Does it ever cross your mind that you were the one that convinced me to play for you? Do you ever think of the fact that I am not a robot?


What was the point of meeting with you and telling you about my life, me, my family or my past? Why are you asking me to trust you when you don’t trust me? When you do not believe in me and you make that known every chance you get. Actually, how can I trust you? You humiliate me every chance you get and then you wonder why I don’t speak in practice. You wonder why I rush out of the gym or run passed your office, so you won’t see me. You wonder why I choose to shoot really early in the mornings or late at night…


I signed a letter of intent that to me meant a dream was coming true. I didn't know I signed a letter of humiliation. I didn't know that I would open up to you about my past and that you would use it against me. 


I didn't know that mental toughness implied humiliating someone, bringing them down, breaking them down, commenting on their past and coping methods, disregarding their hard work and then expecting them to perform well and remain positive.


 I had no idea that mental toughness meant feeling helpless, good for nothing, unimportant, and being okay with feeling that way.


 I didn’t know that preaching mental toughness meant I come across a player with issues at home and I send them to counseling instead of looking to understand them and help them out.


So Coach, how about you show me what it means to be mentally tough? You preach it, so be it! Don't enter the gym looking mad because we had a tough lost last night! Don't call anyone names because they have committed the same mistake multiple times. Control yourself too. Be mentally tough too. During the team’s toughest moments, show character. Show me how you want me to deal with obstacles and challenges.


 I ask you to be mentally tough too, Coach. Please show the mental toughness you are asking me to incorporate in my behavior because right now, all you are doing is making me lose the love I have for the game….


I am losing it...But I am not the only one, I am not alone, but most importantly I am mentally tougher than you. You may have been through this before, but I am going through it now, and if I ever become a coach I will do it better! Get on my level! Let us grow together!

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I suffered. I learned. I changed. I am happy.