On Monday, we discussed what it takes for you and your team to be tough in football prior to the first snap [you can read Part I HERE]. It takes preparation, commitment, and communication. But most importantly, it takes smart player to realize that being tough does not just mean being fired up before a game. A tough player is a smart player and coach would rather have a player that is smart that a player whose emotions are out of control.

Having said this, let’s look into what it takes to be tough during a game. Again, this is not about letting your emotions run out of control and dictate how you play, but having an awareness of your environment and doing the technical things right.

Be Aware of the Environment and Your Emotions

When in a big game, lots of players use the environment of the moment to get ‘fired up.’ They hear the roar of the crowd, listen to the National Anthem, and all of the sudden have their emotions take control. And with all of that happening, within the first series they forget their assignment, and end up getting chewed out by their coach. Now, It’s not wrong to get emotional, however losing control of those emotions and having it affect your play could create a massive problem for your and your team. Tough players are one’s who don’t let a moment get the best of their emotions. They may get ‘fired up,’ but they never let it negatively affect their play.

Tackle the Right Way

Anyone can hit, but it takes a tough player to tackle the right way. You don’t need to try to rip the ball from the offensive players hands every time you go for a tackle. Ask yourself this question: will your coach be pleased if you make the tackle when you have the opportunity, or will he be upset because rather than go for the tackle, you go for the rip, missing the tackle completely. My bet is that he will be happy with a good tackle. Remember that tough players do the right things fundamentally. They don’t need to ‘glory play’ each time they get the chance. They do the right things on the field when the opportunity presents itself.

Don’t Try to Be a Hero

Every player dreams of making ‘the big play.’ Hell, you don’t play this game without thinking about it. However, there are those who try to always force the big play, and players who are tough, who make the big play. Players who try to play ‘hero ball’ are those who are constantly making mistakes in big moments. The play becomes all about them getting the glory, rather than do what is right for the sake of the team. Tough players not only want to be successful, they understand that the success of the team is more important than gaining their own personal glory.

Create a Big Target and Catch the Ball the Right Way

Recently, every WR wants to be like Odell Beckham, Jr – making the one handed grab and getting the glory of an athletic play. Well, if that is your intention – stop being so selfish and play football the right way by creating a big target and do whatever you can do catch the ball with both hands, or collecting it with your chest. Maybe one day you will catch the ball like OBJ, however don’t put yourself and your team in a situation that could negatively affect the game by trying to be fancy. Tough players don’t try do make fancy plays, they are always trying to do whatever they can to make the right ones.

Play one Play at a Time

The Patriots could have given up as Marshawn Lynch and the Seahawks marched down the field in the 4th quarter of the 2015 Super Bowl. They could have thrown in the towel and given up – but they didn’t. A player was in the right position at the right time and made the greatest defensive play in Super Bowl history, by intercepting the ball on the 2-yard line – because he was focused on that play, in that moment, not about the fact that the Seahawks had the momentum. If someone makes a good play against you, don’t sulk. Don’t be defeated. Focus on the next play. Focus on making adjustments. If something negative happens again, stay in the moment and try to win the next play. Tough players are resilient. It is never over until the game is officially over.

Make Adjustments

Tough players are not stubborn. If they make a mistake, they are upset, however they understand that it is more important that they make adjustments than being proud, putting the team at risk, and not making any changes during the game. Players who I would not consider tough are those who don’t adjust, don’t admit failure, and do nothing to fix the problems that are taking place. Football is a game of adjustments, not a game of stubbornness. Be tough and when your coach or teammate informs you on how you could be doing better, whether it is in a game or a practice – be tough, adjust, and make yourself better.

Now that you have looked at all of these factors that go into being tough, ask yourself – am I, the athletes I coach, and my staff really tough? Or do you just think you are? Remember that being tough is not about being the most fired up, the most aggressive, or the angriest – it is about being prepared, playing smart, and being a great teammate [whether as a coach to your staff or a player with your peers]. When we began this two-part article, I started with saying that the most talented team does not always win. I am still a strong believer in that. I think that the team that is the toughest will win. And I hope after reading this, you can implement some of this with either yourself and your team.

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