The Real Definition of Football Toughness — Part I

With Football Season already kicked-off in High Schools across the country, College Football next week about to get off to its biggest slate of games, and the NFL Season soon to follow, I wanted to address something important: Football is known as a tough-man’s game. However, what does it really mean to be tough in America’s most popular game? We will see pictures of players in war paint, hitting their heads on lockers as hard as they can, guys making death-defying catches across the middle, and tackles from lineman that will end careers. But does that make a player tough?

In my opinion, it is not one’s ability to survive the game and make gruesome hits that makes a football player tough, but preparation, awareness, and attention to detail. And when discussing this idea of football toughness, I think that it is important that it is discussed in two separate, but equally important sections: First, how to be tough prior to the game, and Second, how to be tough in game situations.

So to start off, what does it take to be tough before a game even kicks off. Well, as any tough player will tell you, it starts with preparation:

Preparation in the Film Room

Tough players are smart players who are ready for the next opponent. They not only study plays from their upcoming challenger, but they look at what they have done in the past that they need to improve on. When Tom Brady played the last game regular season against the NY Giants, looking to take his team to an undefeated regular season, his coach asked him a week before to start looking at film of the Giants. His answer was that he has already looked at film. From each of their last 15 games. That is being tough. Doing the work outside of the field that gets you ready for the upcoming challenge.

Don’t Just Know the Plan, Understand It

Lots of players will go into the upcoming week saying that they know the game plan 100%. However, there is a big difference between knowing and understanding. Do you understand what happens when an audible is called? Do you know the assignments of the other guys in your unit so you can make adjustments? What will happen if the plan does not work, do you understand the contingency plan? Again, being prepared as much as possible is a vital key to being tough. No one wants to tell their coach that they did not fully understand their role — tough players understand their job and what it will take to be successful.

Be Inquisitive

No player [at least the last time I checked] ever got kicked off a team because they asked how to do things right. If they are not clear about something, they ask a teammate. If something is still unclear, then they ask their coach. And they keep asking until they get the answer that makes them feel confident in the decisions that they will eventually make during the game. They may also ask their teammates if they understand what to do in certain situations to make sure everyone is on the same page. Tough players ask tough questions of themselves and those around them. It’s much better to ask than to be unprepared.

Get on the Same Page with Other Members of Your Staff

One of the worst things that a football team can do is have not have everyone on the field be on the same page. Coaches will have meeting after meeting to make sure that this is not a problem, however we often see a lack of communication before and during the game [especially with QBs and WRs] that may lead to balls being dropped and routes being ran wrong, all because members of the staff were not on the same page. My message here is to players more than coaches: in the week leading up to the game, talk to each other. Have separate meetings in the dorm, in the film room, go over plays after practice. No stone is left unturned. A team is tougher when they understand each other’s role and what they are supposed to do throughout the game.

Don’t Just Get Aggressive, Get Smart

No one ever got a championship ring because they hit their head as hard as they could on a locker before a game. No one ever gets mentioned as a great player if they are aggressive, but not effective. Big time players make big time plays, but big time players also play smart. They are where they need to be when it’s time to make a play. They see holes in the defensive line that others don’t. They are able to take that aggression and turn it into smart play. So don’t just get ‘fired up,’ get ready to play smart.

Later in the week, we will discuss the second section of what it takes to be tough in football, by focusing on game situations. If you are going to take away anything from this first section, it should be that tough players don’t go out and just ‘get it done.’ They are the most prepared, the best communicating, and intelligent people on the field. Without all the work that is done before the first snap of the game, there is no way that they, or anyone around them should legitimately consider themselves tough.

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