I left the house with plenty of time, tip was 10.30am and I had but a twenty minute drive, if that, from door to court. Game day brings out the very best mood in me, I enjoy the thrill, the complexity of the unknown and as such approach competition with a joyful spring in my step. Everybody was changed and warming up with twenty-five minutes to go, there was a sense of organisation about what we were doing and it was good to see. I had already made my mind up that I wasn’t going to revisit our last practice, I needed to move on. I spoke individually with a number of players, shared smiles and the odd joke as we continued to prepare ourselves, the mood was light and playful. Our pre-game talk was short, I didn’t want to overburden them, we focused our attention on five ‘keys to the game’, of which communication and togetherness featured centrally within the game narrative.
The ball went up and we gave up a basket, and then a second very quickly. I wasn’t worried, concerned that we had missed two basic assignments, yes, but I was determined to not get on the players early and let the game evolve, their game, their ideas and their ability to correct in-game mistakes. As we moved deep into the first quarter it was clear that we had two things on our mind, get the ball to a wing, establish a ‘strong side’ and attack, and defend ‘home’ We did both with vigour and effort, and we challenged each other when we failed to meet the goal. Players were thinking, moving and communicating with each other, it was really pleasing to see. As the quarter came to an end we had managed to amass an eight point lead, mostly off of the back of lay ups and short jump shots. Emotions were high on the bench, players were talking, challenging and generally pleased with their effort. I acknowledged the great start that we had made and applauded our rebounding. In fact, our rebounding was a significant plus for us and something that I did not expect.
Throughout the next two quarters I began to talk more, challenge, instruct and offer my opinion, I wasn’t pleased with my behaviour but I was very aware of it and kept taking small personal time outs to control my thoughts and reduce my instruction. Other than the odd mistake I had no need to get after the players, they were doing a good job of trying to move through the things that we had agreed were key for us. Tactically, I made a number of small alterations to our out-of-bounds action, we were getting a great deal out of the baseline stuff and I wanted to see if we could execute from the side line. I gave them a couple of options out of one play and they proceeded to execute with familiarity, confidence and accuracy. It was great to see them take a task and solve the problem between themselves. The question I now find myself wrapped up in was why? Why had it all of a sudden come together?
The final quarter saw us give up the most amount of points (10), I was unsure whether this was down to our defence or their offence but we finished the game holding the opposition to just 33 points. We had established and maintained ‘home’ throughout the game. We had guarded the ball very well (WRECKING – on ball conditions for defence) and had helped out, not all of the time, but most of the time. All of this and I was still challenging plays, identifying missed assignments (movement, weak side rotation, missed reads etc.). To say it is a challenge to develop independent thinking athletes is somewhat of an understatement. They had done all that we had prepared for, not always to perfection, but they were making the effort, learning from their mistakes for the most part and applying as much effort as they could.
My take away from the game is that I must consider a more blended approach, players are going to have to make decisions, communicate and problem solve within our Game Model. However, I had to allow them to do so, I have promoted the approach, encouraged and challenged them to lead with a ‘Leadership Voice’, but then have spoken over them for 30 minutes. The drive home was a pleasing one, tarnished only by my broken iPad, a clumsy moment that resulted in me dropping the device and smashing the screen. I believe the saying goes, basketball giveth and then taketh away…