Is toughness really the issue?
I had an argument with a fastpitch coach once because they were over conditioning (more like physical torture/punishment) as a result of mistakes the team made in the game. These torture experiments (not counting the verbal abuse) took about 30-45 minutes of a two hour practice, that could have been spent better, working on improving the areas they were deficient in, but I digress. This got so bad, that it started to affect their in-season strength workouts (with none other than me lol), so I went to the coach to inform them of the seriousness of this situation and to hear their logic (or lack of) behind this.
As I expected, I heard the usual BS, that the team made too many mistakes and needed to learn from them, and also they felt the team needed to be tougher, so this was the method they chose to improve that mental quality. There were a few thoughts and questions that I asked/expressed (and some that stayed in my head for good reason), but here are the ones that I highlight
"How tough does one need to be hit, throw, or field a ball?"
"How much toughness is really required to run from home to first base, or to steal a base?"
These are very highly skilled sport actions that require hours and hours of technical, mental, and physical practice/preparation and good analysis from coaches/trainers. None of these skills will be improved through punishment or extra conditioning and tired players aren't tough anyway so this is counterproductive on many levels different levels.
There was another similar incident but this time with a football coach. This coach was complaining that his players lacked focus and always seemed to be tired or very low on energy, and he didn't understand the reason why. Being the logical person I am, I brought up the fact that the practices were at 2.5 hours in length, usually with a variety conditioning methods being dispersed throughout and after the practice.
The coach then looked at me as I if I had disrespected his mom and explained the reason behind this was that their players weren't concentrating enough and made too many mistakes. He concluded this streak of nonsense by saying that this was also getting the players tougher, and ready to handle the rigors of a full football game. As you may have guessed, that conversation did not end pleasantly, but this seems to be a common belief among coaches across all sports that desperately needs to be eliminated.
Any player who attends every practice and workouts/training, and does their best to improve in each, is tough (especially under some of the situations mentioned above). Toughness (as well as conditioning) is the lowest hanging fruit, so it is easier to blame them for a team's lack of success, but that's usually not issue. Inadequacies in coaching ability, poor practice design, bad connection or lack of team buy-in, and/or lower skilled players are normally reasons for a team not doing as well as planned.
Fatigue is every athletes' kryptonite!
Purposely tiring out your athletes to prevent them from being tired is an oxymoron.
There are many ways to promote toughness in an athletic program, but physically breaking your players down is not one of them.
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