Hustle - “Never Back Down”

Insight into Sport Psychology [WARNING: SPOILERS]

Athletes are often impacted by their mindset to perform at their best. Adam Sandler’s new Netflix movie ‘Hustle’ is an example of when athletes who have potential to make professional teams overlook their mentality. The film’s protagonist Bo Cruz has exceptional talent to make it to the NBA but fails to impress at the NBA Combine despite gaining support from people who have seen him play online. In order to realize his capability, Stanley, a scout from the Philadelphia 76ers, is key to unlocking Cruz's confidence. While the film highlights the importance of strong connections and surrounding yourself with people who believe in you, having the individual ‘never back down’ mentality and attitude to be the best, is just as important. 

From the beginning, Stanley is consistently shown to have firm belief in Cruz. This is demonstrated by his willingness to bring him from Spain to the US. He attempts to persuade Vince, the owner of the Sixers, by saying that ‘he’s incredible’, ‘Vin, this kid is the new freak’ and that he is ‘a unicorn, a mythical creature’. Cruz is initially very hesitant to leave his family and leave Spain, however it is Stanley that convinces him that he will make a great player and has potential to become a NBA player. Money is also initially a bribery however, Cruz soon proves money isn’t everything and that he has passion for the game. His move from Spain to the US in order to achieve his dream demonstrates that to succeed and be better than you were previously, that you have to do something that you have never done. You must have belief in yourself and you should surround yourself with people who have confidence in your abilities. Cruz arrives in the US ready to impress Vince, supported by Stanley. Stanley is yet to tell Vince that he brought Bo back to the Sixers but has belief that Cruz is the ‘missing piece’

Unfortunately Vince doesn’t want Cruz, so Stanley leaves the Sixers and becomes freelance. With lots of training, he hopes that Cruz will make the NBA Draft Combine. Stanley teaches Cruz the importance of being mentally tough. He says, ‘When you walk onto that court you have to think I am the best guy out there, I don’t care if LeBron’s playing.’ He ignites passion and confidence into Cruz demanding, ‘So let me ask you again. Do you love this game?’ When Cruz replies ‘yes’, Stanley says, ‘Let’s make that happen. Never back down’. 

From this point on, the phrase ‘Never back down’ becomes important to both of them throughout the training process. Stanley has a goal of Cruz running up the hill in 1 min and 45 secs. Having a goal and working together to achieve it, is something that is shown to be crucial to him achieving his dream. While he works on his physicality and strength, Stanley repeatedly tells him to ‘never back down’ as a means to teach him resilience and to always keep fighting, even when the odds are against him. 

However, having the talent and physical capabilities is shown to be not enough when Cruz reaches the NBA Draft Combine. He is seen to put himself under large amounts of pressure and appears overwhelmed. In particular, this pressure is initiated by Kermit, a trash-talking rival of Cruz. The pressure starts to get to Cruz while he attempts to control himself. After storming out, it is Stanley again who comes to his help. He wants to show Cruz that he shouldn’t give up. Eventually, things turn out well for Cruz, who has another chance to impress at a tryout. This time, Cruz's mentality does not hinder his performance on the court. As Stanley says ‘it’s you against you out there’ to Cruz, he realizes that Stanley is referring to the competition within his own mind, rather than with his opponents. Once Cruz understands this, he forgets about Kermit and begins to have a strong mentality. The way he handles missing a shot, his nerves, and the way he blocks out Kermit is like he is a whole other person. This time, it is Cruz who starts to get in Kermit’s head. Cruz's reaction to missed hoops and making a mistake only fuels him to be better, and thus annoying Kermit whose performance seems to gradually worsen as he loses confidence. This shift demonstrates how important having a good mentality is in a game. The athletes who have the greatest resilience and composure are the ones who perform better, especially if two athletes have equal physical capabilities. 

The film encourages the audience to look at the training and the hours of work put in by coaches and players to become elite athletes. The highs and lows of each person and the way players react to difficult situations are key takeaways. The difference between the players who make the NBA Draft and those who don't is ultimately the preparation that they have done physically and mentally, the obsession in the game, and the hustle. Eventually, Cruz gets drafted and he is left with deep enjoyment for basketball and is pleased that his family is there to share it with him. The ‘never back down’ mentality and ‘obsession is going to beat talent anytime’ are two key messages from Stanley that are left in Cruz, who is seen to be working hard and loving the game at his new club. 



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