The short game

I spent a little more time than usual preparing for our game today, I had read Dave Brailsford approach to success, in particular, his marginal gains philosophy. I had spent a great deal of time working on what I thought the players needed to develop. What I had not contemplated was what I could do to improve our performance, beyond being mindful of my in-competition behaviours and their impact on the individual and team. I looked at our rotations, our warm-up, the bench environment, hydration and the general pre-game routine. There was a great deal I could change, and so I started with the rotations. I looked for equality of time, skill and position balance and continuity on the court and within our play (scorers, defenders, rebounders etc.). I documented it all on a pocket size card, packed my bag and made my way to the game.

The venue was about an hours drive and I had arrived in plenty of time. In fact I was one of the first there. I set our bench area up, sorted the water provision and rearranged the changing rooms. The players arrived in good time, shot around for a while and then began to get changed. I entered the changing rooms, spoke to them briefly about the game and discussed our three keys to success. I had also elected to confront the elephant from thursdays practice, I couldn’t leave it sitting and wanted to move on from it. I wasn’t sure that including it within our pre-game planning was wise, but I also didn’t feel that I could leave it unchallenged.

We entered the court with fifteen minutes to tip and began our warm-up. The players did a fantastic job of moving through a range of activities designed to engage them physically and mentally in elements of game model. I sat and observed and felt that we had put together a good pre-game period of preparation. I spoke to the officials, greeted the opposing coach and was ready. I felt good, we were in a good place, 3 and 1, about to tip against a team somewhat further down the table than us and our overall mood was relaxed, up-beat and focused. I was happy with where we were at that precise moment. I handed out my final instructions, I asked a question and provided some motivation before identifying the starters. They walked out on to the court, settled into their starting positions and we were off.

It wasn’t long before we were very much in a battle, not because the opposition was talented, but because we had allowed them to get comfortable. We sagged off of them on defence and allowed them room to shoot, we didn’t challenge any possession of the ball and our newly constructed rotations had us playing alongside different people. I found myself offering a great degree of instruction, challenges to what I perceived were poor moments of individual and collective play and generally ‘getting after the players’. I had gone from calm, prepared and happy to frustrated and perplexed within just a few minutes. I did my usual walk to the end of the bench in an attempt to shut myself up and allow them to play. Mixed in to our game play were a number of really good unselfish passes that resulted in a number of strong finishes around the basket. We just couldn’t match this play on defence.

I became increasingly aware of a great deal of complaining from the players, something that doesn’t normally occur. This was aligned to their inability to establish any form of athletic position or movement without slipping over. I had missed it completely, the players were not not playing any defence, they couldn’t for fear of slipping over. One by one players attempted to close out, ‘hit home’, rotate to the next player and before managing to do so, they found themselves on the floor. The court was an ice rink!! after a number of tumbles, and one particularly hard one, the referee stopped the game, we were up 20-18 and had begun to establish a degree of control over the game, but unfortunately, not on our movement patterns. The game was abandon and we walked ourselves back to the dressing rooms to get changed.

Driving home I felt somewhat frustrated by the events of the day. I had spent a large proportion of the morning getting myself ready for the game, unpicking a great deal of the game day activity and attempting to improve how we approached our game day preparation. I felt good at the point of tip-off, only for it to be cut short. We would have to do it all over again! Perhaps we could take a number of lessons from some of the good preparatory work conducted throughout today in a bid to repeat our pre-game mood for the remainder of our fixtures? Who knows, there may be a number of lessons from today that will serve us later on in the season? Game day was over, I turned the music up and continued my return drive home.

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