Book excerpt: Jay Bilas' "Toughness"

Successful players and teams don't just assess themselves by records or statistics, but by a standard of excellence that goes beyond a final score.

Self-evaluation takes honesty, and the toughest teams and players do not con themselves. When I was playing for Coach Mike Krzyzewski of Duke, he was often harder on us after a win than after a loss. He would identify areas of concern for our team and for individuals as "slippage" from our standards, and he was quick to point out that a lesser performance might have beaten our latest opponent, but it would not beat the best teams coming up in the future.

We weren't just playing against an opponent; we were playing to a standard. And it was a standard of excellence.

Coach K expected us to give championship effort in every minute of every game, and in every drill in every practice. Even if we were ahead by thirty points and just mopping up, there was no such thing as "garbage time" for Coach K. Every minute of playing time was earned, and it was to be valued. And if we were down, Coach K expected his players to fight to the last possession and play through the buzzer to the highest standard.

Even though we would never play the perfect game, we strove to play perfectly, and give perfect effort.

I have never heard Coach K say, "A win is a win." He simply doesn't look at it that way. If we played poorly in a win, he was upset by the standard of play, and it could feel like we had lost the game. The environment around practice after such a performance was just like a loss. And in a very real way, it was: It was a lost opportunity. As a team and individuals, we moved on to the next thing, but we examined exactly where we were, where our deficiencies were, and took measures to correct our mistakes and improve as individuals and as a team.

Early on in our playing careers under Coach K, we would think, What is he so worked up over? We won. As a coach and a leader, he was thinking, If we play this way against the best teams, we will not win.

This effort won this game, but won't win against the very best competition. Coach K often told us that our style of play or "system" was designed to beat the best teams. It depended upon how we performed in it. And we could not be fooled into thinking that everything was okay just because we won. We needed to be tough enough to evaluate ourselves honestly, especially after a win.

Coach K always told us he would never lie to us. But he also wanted each of his players to be real with himself. "Whatever success we have had, that is the biggest part of it," Krzyzewski said. "We address what just happened honestly and directly, we make corrections, and we move on together."

It is difficult not to be blinded by the bright lights of victory. But tough teams and tough people aren't fooled by winning, rather are still able to clearly evaluate areas of improvement, and never lose sight of their standards. It is much easier to take a hard, objective look at yourself after a loss than after a win. Winning masks a lot of problems and allows a lot of people to cheat themselves. In order to effectively address potential problems or issues, you need to confront them early. You need to do so while winning, and not wait for a crisis. Winning or having success can make you feel satisfied and complacent …

To "lock in" to toughness, to the principles and values discussed in this book, I believe that you have to commit to honestly and objectively assessing just how tough you are right now, where you have met your standard and where you have fallen short of it, and you have to address what you need to do, and are willing to do, to consistently meet that standard of toughness.

In my own personal journey, I have fallen short many times of the standard of toughness I value and expect of myself, and that those around me value and expect of me. But through learned self-awareness, I strive to pick myself up and do better.

I know that I am capable of true toughness. I believe we are all capable of exhibiting the kind of toughness valued and emphasized in this book.

I also accept that I am not as tough as I want to be, and that I have to continue to strive, every day, to be tougher -- for myself, my team, and my family. Toughness isn't about bravado. It is about meeting challenges head-on and not shrinking from them.

And when I get knocked down, I strive to be tough enough to get up and keep fighting. Based upon the principles in this book, those that I have learned from so many great people in my life, I know that I am tougher than I used to be, and I can and will be tougher tomorrow than I am today.

We can all be tougher, and we can be tougher together.