Head Coach Jason Garrett said the Dallas Cowboys must improve their mental toughness in order to finish games better and win the close ones.
“ there is a mental toughness we will have to continue to develop… My experience as a player and coach in this league tells me the teams that win are typically the teams that are mentally toughest…because so many of these games come down to crunch time. We have to get better in that area.”
I’m on board with that Jason. Last year the Cowboys blew three double digit leads in the 4th quarter which was more than any season in 51 previous seasons. There could be a plethora of reasons why they were unable to put teams away but it certainly would appear that the inability to knuckle down mentally and get it done, was a significant factor.
So what exactly is meant by mental toughness? The legendary coach Vince Lombardi described it this way, “Mental toughness is many things and rather difficult to explain. Its qualities are sacrifice and self-denial. Also, most importantly, it is combined with a perfectly disciplined will that refuses to give in. It’s a state of mind – you could call it ‘character in action.'”
I like that term “character in action”. And certainly a “refuse to lose” mind set plays a big role. With their first NFL game only 5 weeks away, what is it that Jason can focus on to help develop a team that fights to the finish and comes out victorious?
1. Conditioning: “Fatigue makes cowards of us all.” -General Patton
Patton pointed out that part of winning a battle is wearing down your opponent. When players get tired, they just don’t fight quite as hard. There are no short cuts to getting in shape as it will require hard work and it begins as soon as the previous season ends. This offseason Jason certainly placed an emphasis on players showing up day one of camp in condition to play football. Even Jerry Jones called out Dez Bryant for not being in top condition last year which it appears, he has responded to by showing up in better shape this camp.
It will be crucial that they practice at a fast pace and prepare themselves to play for more than 4 quarters so that playing a complete game feels easier than practice.
2. Discipline: “The harder you work, the harder it is to surrender”. –Vince Lombardi
Part of winning a game late is doing the small things correctly when you don’t feel like doing them at all. It’s important to practice blocking assignments, coverage responsibilities, and even cadence late in practice when players are the most tired. Because it is late in the game when mistakes will be the most critical. One simple mistake can blow a game. A holding penalty or offsides can kill a drive and cause a team to lose.
Paying extra close attention to small details and making yourself do things correctly late in practice, will pay off in close games.
“Character in action” is the way Lombardi described mental toughness. It reveals what you are made of deep down. This is the one area that will be mighty challenging for Jason to develop in just 5 weeks. However, one thing Jason has done since becoming head coach, is to draft players that demonstrated high character throughout their careers prior to the NFL. He likes to draft team captains on college football teams and I think that approach will eventually pay dividends for him.
Yes, there are still some questionable character guys on this team but Jason is slowly changing the culture on the team.
If Jason can successfully develop a team that is more mentally tough than last year, they should enjoy more success. That first game with the Giants will certainly be a good test to see how much progress has been made.