Top of the table clash

I couldn’t have been anymore disappointed in both the ‘I’ and ‘Me’ that looked back at my coach self in the rear view mirror. I had asked the players to run with passion and the freedom of a gazelle and they did. We had talked about selfless ball movement and allowing each player the chance to be their very best self, and without question the expressions of movement that emanated from the court said just that. And in our early gatherings we agreed who we wanted to be, how we would define success and failure and how the space in between all of this would be the metric for our individual growth. All of this we did, unbridled, unafraid and unashamed and yet I questioned, I challenged and I demanded more without an hint of negotiation, debate or consensus. I actually felt angry with myself!
It didn’t start out the way it ended though, we looked great in the early going, our ball movement was fluid and we got good looks from all over the floor, open jump shots, lay ups, penetration and kick-outs to wide open players, and all from ball movement, ball reversal and smart decision making. In fact, other than applaud their play and execution, and the odd ‘punch’ into the air, I said very little, I didn’t need to, the players were saying it all with their play. It was a pleasure to watch and an even greater pleasure to be involved in. I high-fived players on the bench, noted examples of exemplar play and generally showed my happiness at our level of intensity, style of play and overall approach to the game. As a result of this great demonstration of what we could be and after just a handful possessions, we were up 9 – 0, built on a lay-up, a jump shot, a 3pt shot and a trip to the foul line, you just couldn’t have scripted it any better. I could feel the nervous energy running through me, battling to construct our game strategy, our direction for the remainder of the game.
Through out the second and third quarter we had a number of ‘breakdowns’, moments where it didn’t go our way, player disagreements, wandering attentions due to limited playing time and general frustration at the physicality and opposing force of our competition. However, instead of combating the onslaught I started to engage a little, the volume of concurrent feedback was on the up, stern challenges left my mouth with purpose and intent and I quickly began to lose sight of the ‘me’ I wished standing on the sideline. I was worried about the ‘breakdowns’, I had anticipated one or two as a result of the level of competition we were facing, but actually it was me that was drifting away from the game model, my values and our collective agreement. I tried to take a minute, compose my thoughts, navigate my way through the now messy reality that faced me in the hope of finding a somewhat more stable position, a place that I could begin to re-establish our norms. It wasn’t to be, I was like a misfiring car with the promise of turning over but never quite getting there.
The mood on the bench was new, like an uninvited guest it forced its way in, got comfortable and began to annoy everyone around it. Players were visibly breaking downing, assigning blame, lowering their head and generally presenting an alternative them. Yet, among all that I thought was wrong, could go wrong and was wrong, with just 90-seconds remaining and possession of the ball securely with us, the score said something completely different, we were down just five points. A chance, another opportunity had been presented to us to claw back who we wished to be. I began to feel a degree of positivity move through me, I was encouraging and passionate about our chances, when suddenly they were gone, just as quickly as they had emerged. One turnover, two…three turnovers, a disagreement and two made baskets by the opposition and time had ran out on our top-of-the-table clash. I congratulated all concerned, spent a minute telling the players that we did well for the majority of the game and that we just needed to learn to finish the game under pressure. We gave the opposition a ‘call’, reminded us who we were and then I was gone. The slow long walk to the car and to the dissection of what had just passed before me.

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