Two years ago I read Jay BIlas’ book “Toughness”. It made an impact on me more than I can describe. I wanted to share it with others, and more specifically the young men I was coaching. I wanted to create a program to develop toughness not due to the fact I was the toughest person to walk to the earth (far far far from it), but because of the lack of toughness I had seen. I though the players I was looking at then (single parent, without a dad, rough backgrounds) needed toughness more than any other student. However, I realized this year that players (and people) from ALL walks of life (city/rural, two parent/one parent, etc…) needed it.

Today before our home game I wanted to take 30 minutes to teach our guys about TOUGH COMMUNICATION. We all communicate, but are we TOUGH with it?

This will not be a typical blog post. Below you will find my notes taken to from Jay Bilas book, my own thoughts and research in creating this lesson, and ultimately the slides, video from our meeting today, and response questions I urge you to answer.

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Communication is defined as “To exchange or share information, news, or ideas”

Vital To Toughness

  • Initial Thoughts → Why?

  • It is easy to just go through the motions, easy to just play. Anyone can do that. Toughness is playing AND communicating

  • Keeps our team accountable (players to players, player to coach, coach to player, etc..)

Necessary In Any Relationship (Ask For Player Input)

  • Teammates: Communication helps play on the court. Offense (call spacing, assignments, call ball) Defense (ball screen, help, many more). Keep communication off court to help us be a team.

  • Friends: Be helpful friend, shows care for their life,

  • Future Significant Other: Shows love and many more that you aren’t ready for (Funny)

Critical To Success

  • Example: How crazy would it be if you hopped in a cab and told the driver “Hey I need to be there soon. Let’s go!”. First, saying “soon” as the time to get there is really vague. The driver doesn’t know if he/she needs to get going and use shortcuts or just take the normal way. Now you could be late. Second and most important, your lack of communication of “there” leaves the cab driver clueless as to your destination and makes it hard to reach your goal. We want to reach our goal and ultimate destination and communication is needed.

  • Successful people make sure others know what they intend to do. CEO’s don’t keep the company vision to themselves and expect the employees to magically get it done.

  • No matter what job you will ever have in your life communication will play a role

  • A team that constantly and consistently communicates has a definitive advantage over its opponent.

  • Keeps you engaged

    • 60% of employees lack the elements required to be highly engaged

    • 82% of employees said it’s very important that their organization address the employee engagement problem

    • 69% of employees report engagement is a problem in their organization


Communication For A Team Is Essential On Their Playing Field. Whether it be a game or practice to play sports you must have excellent communication that takes place among the other skills of the game. Players and teams play better when communication occurs. It comes from not only the players in the game, but the players on the sideline/bench. No player has the excuse for not communicating.

Team Game Requires A Team

  • Our team wins, our team has more points than they do

  • Communication includes everybody communicating to everyone. Not between two guys, not between just the starters, everyone!

  • When you communicate to your team it brings a connection to one another

  • If we all just hold out our chain links it means nothing, but when we successfully chain our links together we are better

  • Trust and commitment are needed to create and validate communication. No trust and belief in someone means you might not accept what is being communicated and a team can ill afford to have that.

  • Don’t be about the ME. Sure your man might not have beat you or scored, but your teammate who got blindsided with a screen just got hurt. On court communication is for the benefit of the WE!

Helps Us Be Better

  • It's a must in all areas of the game and athletics thats for sure, but on the defensive side communication is as essential as oxygen. What are all the ways communication can help us on the defensive side?

  • Understand what role you have and how that affects communication. If everyone took the same approach then it wouldn’t make us as good as everyone doing their part. Maybe you job is to help your teammate on the ball. Maybe your job is to let your teammate know a screen is coming. Maybe on the bench your job is to help your teammate who’s guarding the opponent's best player. Whatever it may be perform it for the greatness of the team.

  • NASA does this on a larger scale. Their teams are comprised of many large groups whose sole goal is to build a spaceship that can fly into space for its mission. They know that each group is necessary to create this amazing feat and that all the pieces come together for the same goal. If one group decides they want to do something differently and create something extra for their role then the spacecraft will be compromised.  

Not Talking Is Selfish

  • Sounds crazy but it’s true

  • Not talking is equally if not more selfish than refusing to make the extra pass on a  fast break.

  • We all must have each others back and be tough together. That is very intimidating to play against. It breaks an opponent down.  

  • Kevin Garnett just recently retired from the NBA. He was widely regarded as a guy who wouldn’t stop talking. Yes would he add the occasional trash talk sure, but no one communicated with his teammates better. He knew to win a championship he and his teammates had to together and talk to one another.

  • He said “I'm not the type of person to give up just because something gets rough. That's a coward. That's not me.” Kevin Garnett

Another organization example for communication would be the San Antonio Spurs. They don't fit the mold of flash and sparkle. They are tough together and believe in communication. Coach Popovich said "It's a great feeling when players get together and do things as a group. Whatever can be done to empower those people."


Communication Extends Beyond Playing Surface  

  • Teams stick together off the court translate to playing well together on the court.

  • It’s a 24/7 thing. Making sure your teammates are doing well, make sure they are doing class work to be eligible, maybe they help so they can get done and rest, etc..   

  • Involves Basketball And Life as not everything has to be sport centered. Great teams relate on come together on just about everything

  • What ways can we communicate off the court as a team?

Involves Trust And Honesty

  • Be Willing To Say Tough Things - Truth has to be communicated. A team built on lies will fail. If a teammate has been going out late and not getting rest teammates shouldn’t turn a blind eye. Telling them before it gets to the coach level is always the best. If someone’s effort is lacking get on that!  

  • Importance Of The Mission: This should be the center of communication. Communicate things to others that keep everyone on the path to where we want to be


  • Good Communicators Also Listen -- Chris Bosh quote is good because too often teams can take communication to a talking match to see who’s loudest.

  • If It’s Important To Your Teammates It’s Important To You -- You only pick this up if you listen. Could be something like needing a ride to school or on the court a teammate knowing where one likes to be for a shot.

  • Be Open To Others and what they have to say.

Tone Of Communication

  • Can Apply To On Court -- Yelling from a teammate can put a player down and reduce confidence. Sarcastic can make someone think you don’t care or mock them causing them to think. When communicating criticism it can be a good things to add a positive reinforcement to uplift the teammate.  

  • Perception By Others -- Our tone in communication can be perceived in so many ways by others that it can take away from the actual words that were said good or bad. Don’t let your communication be open for interpretation. If it does which it will it should communicated back to the teammate to see what they meant by what they said.   

  • Ways Of Communication Has Effects -- They can positive or negative. Sometimes the positive effects aren’t always seen, but the negative effects definitely can be! How many friends do you know who’ve had a argument or drama over something that wasn’t communicated well? Probably many. As a team we need to be aware of what can happen when communication is neglected/or done correctly.  


A huge part of communication within a team is using it to hold each other accountable. There is no such thing as silent accountability. Accountability can’t wait to kick in after the boat is taking on water, by then it’s too late.

Tough Accountability Through Communication

  • Can’t Worry About Being “Liked” -- This is a huge issue when it comes to team accountability. Often players are scared to hold a friend who they are close with accountable. They don’t want to look uncool, or lose friendship. But that is false friendship. If we care for each other and this team we will be accountable and hold others to accountability.

  • Push Each Other = We Get Better  -- It’s that simple. Good teams do this all the time. Not here and there.

  • “When You’re Around People That Embrace That, You Will Be Better” - Julie Foudy/ Soccer HOF

Player Accountability Is Better

  • Sign Of A Good Team is one who keeps each other accountable. Issues and things are dealt with internally.

  • Shouldn’t Take A Coach to maintain everyone's accountability.  

  • “When Players Are Willing To Hold Each Other Accountable I Think It Carries More Weight And Has More Impact” - Grant Hill

Responsible To The Element. Accountable To The Mission

  • This is NASA’s standard when their team made up of different groups is working on a project to launch a ship to space

  • It means we must be responsible to our role and part and in doing that we must be made accountable for that role for the mission (Whether that be a championship, or whatever goal a practice, drill has)

Look at the picture below. There is many examples of communication. They have the montra listed above the pool entrance. They go at the blame communication game and show the sinkhole that creates, but also the positive outcome once other communicate encouraging things. Even a contract of what is expected so that when accountability is communicated there is a go to source to refer to. Many good things listed in this picture about accountability and communication.

What about everyone’s favorite movie “Remember The Titans”. One of those movies you watch and know whats going on no mater where you pick it up. In a time when any issues in America were going on a high school football team made up of African American students and white students came together to form a football team. They went through tremendous adversity with many believing it would actually work . When they finally relented to their individual interests and focused on the teams they took off like no other. Julius and Gary are two of the team's best players and it wasn’t until they became accountable and put their interests aside that the team turned around and became tough as nails.

I also love the movie “Lone Survivor”/ Graphic and explicit, yes. The realness though is what I love. A true story that tells a story we fall in love with. The story though that holds nothing back as to what war is. In a scene I use there is a communication factor that is evident. I think if we can learn how the military communicates our teams will be better. They don’t mess around, because one false communication could mean life or death. They say what needs to be said. Trust, accountability, and effectiveness are words that this movie exemplifies with their communication in war.

Finally below are questions I contemplated when engaging this material. the questions were all put into a player program. Take a look and print it out to use with yourself or teams.


- Communication -

*All Questions Should Be Answered After Talking With Others

  1. Why is communication vital within your team?

  2. What ways can we communicate in a game? Practice? Other?

  3. What communication is needed for each role?

    1. Point Guard:

    2. Weak Side Defender:

    3. Player Just Taken Out:

  4. What is something you picked up from Coach K “Decisive Communication” video?

  5. What can we do as a team to communicate off the court? For everything you can come up with also give its benefit.

  6. Name reasons listening is an important key.

  7. What things should we as a team be accountable for?


Remember, I am not as tough as I want to be, but I am tougher today than I was yesterday!

Steven Hovermale