Toughness Defined by Jay Bilas

If you have not yet read Toughness: Developing True Strength On and Off the Court by Jay Bilas, I highly recommend you do. It is one of the best books I have toughness_cover_medever read. So good in fact that it gave me the idea to share all of my favorites quotes and moments from the book. Below you will find that each Chapter and Section is marked to give you a reference of the topic the “quote” came from. Anything not in quotations is a direct remark from Jay Bilas himself.

I hope you enjoy what I have shared. It is only about 1% of what the book brings to life, but hopefully it is enough to convince you to read it in entirely.

Toughness is Defined

Toughness isn’t physical. It has nothing to do with size, physical strength or athleticism. It’s an intangible, an attitude, a philosophy…I believe that true toughness is a skill that can be developed and improved in everyone.

Toughness is a descriptor of how much energy a material can absorb before breaking. Being tough is being Unbreakable!

Coaching Mental Toughness

“Toughness is doing what it takes to make a difference.” – Tom Izzo


Once a coach earns his players’ trust, he can push them to new levels mentally and physically.

Accountability is being held to the standard you have accepted as what you want, individually and collectively.

Belief Through Adversity

“Soft is thinking you should have help on defense, and that thought causes a letdown. Toughness is the anticipation that you won’t get help, so you do everything in your power to stop your man. But at the same time, you know and trust your help is there. That’s toughness, to me.” – Bill Self


One Step at a Time

“Discipline is not punishment. Discipline is doing the right thing, at the right time, to the best of your ability.” – Coach K

Everything We Do is Important

Coach K stressed to us that if we truly wanted to play for championships, we needed to approach every single game as a championship game and give championship effort in every single practice.

Making Shots

At Indiana, Bob Knight had a drill called “Change”. It was a 5-on-5 drill that when he yelled, “Change”, the offensive player would put the ball down on the floor and the offense would sprint immediately to defense, and vice versa. The only rule was that no one player converting to defense could guard the same player that was just defending them.

“In ‘Change’, you have to communicate, be alert and make quick adjustments. Nobody can tell you or diagram for you exactly what is going to happen. You have to figure it out under stress. I was trying to develop a toughness in players.” – Bob Knight

Goals and Destinations

“Our goal is to get better and closer as a team every single day.” – Coach K

A Season of Segments

Coach K broke our season into smaller 5 game segments and our goal was to go 5-0 in each segment.

Many of the best coaches in basketball now routinely break games down into smaller segments, asking their teams to plain in concentrated four-minute segments from TV time-out to TV time-out. Davidson’s Bob McKillop breaks his team’s games down into rounds, like a boxing match. His rounds are four minutes in length, and he keeps score each round and tells his team whether they won or lost that round.

The toughest people have the will to prepare and the will to concentrate. Those are skills, and can be improved like any other skill. So can toughness.


For Steve Kerr, the mental part of the game was of vital importance, and he had to own his routine. “Before every game, I would watch a tape of me playing well, being in the groove, to give myself that positive feeling. To wanted to fill my memory with good things so I could draw upon it.” – Steve Kerr

“Mental errors are from a lack of concentration, which is a lack of mental toughness.” – Tom Crean

“Entitlement never wins championships. Investments wins championships.” – Kevin Eastman

Toughness isn’t an absence of fear. It is the courage to face it, to keep plugging, and to overcome it.


Referencing a conversation with NASA Engineer Daryl Woods, “I was responsible to the element (guarding my man), and accountable to the mission (all five guys, together, stopping our opponent from scoring).”

“The San Antonio Spurs talk; everybody on their team does it. And when the whole team talks, it is a very powerful and intimidating thing.” – Grant Hill


“Encourage us in our endeavor to live above the common level of life. Make us to choose the harder right instead of the easier wrong, and never to be content with half-truth when the whole can be won. Endow us with courage that is born of loyalty to all that is noble and worthy, that scorns to compromise with vice and injustice and knows no fear when truth and right are in jeopardy.” – Cadet Prayer of the United States Military Academy

Next Play

“Next play is the absence of fear of failure…You have moved on.” – Coach K

“I want my players to have a short memory on the court. I don’t want them remembering their screwups; I want them moving on to make another positive play.” – Bill Self


“Don’t mistake routine for commitment.” Tommy Amaker

The Measure of Toughness: The “50-50 Ball”

Former NBA player and coach Doug Collins philosophy is that getting 70% of “50-50 balls” is an idea measure of a team’s overall toughness.

Adapt and Overcome

On his visit to Camp Arifjan in Kuwait, as you enter a sign read, “Adapt and Overcome”.

The “Adapt and Overcome” philosophy is about one thing above all else: toughness. No matter the situation or the hardship faced, every committed solder was expected to adapt to it, and find a way to overcome it. Failure was not an option.


“When individual success is tied to team success, you have a chance to be special.” – Doc Rivers

“Players play, but tough players win.” – Tom Izzo

To accept and embrace a role, you have to be a tough player. And to accept and embrace a role without allowing that role to limit you, you have to be especially tough.

Hard work is not punishment. Hard work is the price of admission for the opportunity to reach a standard of sustained excellence.

Bill Self assigns players the roles he expects them to play, but he is careful never to take away or limit their games. He encourages them in what he wants them to do, but he tries to avoid telling them what not to do.

“Your role is different from your value…and there are so many times that players have to be able to break out of their roles. A role shouldn’t be a limitation.” – Bill Self

“I never really referred to it as a role or role acceptance…I wanted the best shooters to get the most shots, and the best passers to be in position to make passes.” – Bob Knight

The Toughness of “Together”

Coach K once asked our team to do a simple thing, he asked us to attach the word “together” to every sentence we used. We were not just going to play hard, we were going to play hard together. We were not just going to defend, we were going to defend together. We were not just going to win, we were going to win together. Adding “together” to everything we did and said provided emphasis that we were part of something bigger than ourselves. And it made us tougher.

In basketball, tension and fear are the enemies of performance.

A great teammate is committed. A great teammate is selfless. And a great teammate is tough. When those qualities are personified by every player on the team, great teams emerge. The contagious nature of toughness, of commitment, takes the team to the highest level.

Self Evaluation

“If you can’t self-evaluate, to believe you need to get better–even when you are already really good–how can you truly make a difference? That is what toughness is: doing what it takes to make a difference.” – Tom Izzo

“Toughness is the ability to go from ‘bought in’ to ‘locked in.'” – Tom Crean

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