I had company today, my three year old granddaughter joined me at our game, which was somewhat outside of my game day routine, but I am unable to resist her smile and never miss an opportunity to babysit. However, I do like to be organised on game day and as such I often employ a routine as a means of keeping me focused. I wasn’t sure whether doting on my little princess was going to allow me the space to focus, but I was willing to try. We arrived at the venue hand in hand and was confronted by a different look, the show court was dismantled and the two side courts were set up for simultaneous games. I didn’t think much of it at the time. I greeted parents and players, often part of my routine, introduced them to my assistant coach (my granddaughter), not a normal part of my game day activities, and chatted casually about our performance to-date.
Entering the changing rooms for our pre-game talk I felt relaxed, I hadn’t written anything on the board, something I always do, but then I wanted a change, or perhaps the change had been imposed upon me? I wasn’t sure whether or not my little princess was in fact having a calming effect on me, perhaps Goffman’s Dramaturgical framework theory of front and backstage facade’s was at play. Was it that there was a difference between my coach-self and my grandparent-self? Theorising aside, I actually didn’t want to over burden the players, rather remind them of how good they were individually and what each and everyone of them brought to the collective ‘Gold’ unit. I sought to raise their levels of confidence and allow this to play out in the game. I spoke briefly, adding what I believed to be a rich motivational narrative to our team talk, one that would pull at their hearts and drive their collective desire to perform at their very best, their ‘Sunday Best’. I often challenge the players to bring their ‘Sunday Best’, a phrase I grew up with, it was in reference to the clothes I wore for a particular occasion, a reminder to be on my very best behaviour, a way of being that was demanded of me as walked the short walk to church, to the neighbours house, and to anywhere that mattered to my parents and to our simple life.
We got out to a flyer, by far our very best start, our ‘Sunday Best’ start, and what a start it was! In fact, it looked more like a lay up drill than a start to a game, and this was against one of the better teams in the conference, and certainly one of the stronger offensive teams we would come across. The shrill of the whistle distracted my serene mood, the referee blew for Timeout, their coach demanded their attention and at that very minute. As the players jogged in, laughing, cheering and emanating a sense of pride, I waited, just a moment, but I waited, I didn’t say anything, I merely smiled and looked at the players. They couldn’t see what I could see. They would have to wait, but I could see it, confidence! It was everywhere, their smiles, high fives, fist bumps, they were demonstrating a collective confidence, something we had sought for sometime. They deserved it as well, I smiled and calmly said, “I don’t have anything to say”, great job. I guess I did have something to say after all! The point was, we had established ‘Home’, defended the ball, ‘helped’ when needed, pushed the ball and ‘hit’ strongside every single time, I couldn’t ask for more, great job.
We finished out the quarter with a 29 – 13 lead. In an attempt to think beyond the moment I had already decided that we needed to maintain a ten point advantage if we were to win the game. This would shape my rotations and would help us secure the win. Our opponents were strong and talented, far more aggressive than us in the physical sense. Yet they couldn’t harness their strength to create an advantage. In fact, the advantage was ours, we played aggressive defence, got out and ran the floor and took care of the opportunities granted to us as a result of our effort. It is funny I know, but I could feel every bump, every clatter of bodies coming together. It seemed as though I had become ultra sensitive to the game, to every bounce of the ball and to every call made. I was responding to everything, calling out every cut, not out loud, but in my head. It was almost as though I was playing the game. I tried to control my emotions, pull myself together as it were. I walked the quiet walk down the bench and out to the side of out team area in a bid to regather my thoughts. I wanted to rejoin the composed army that sat behind me waiting to enter the game, but as that particular moment, I was was the one that required a substitution.
We got to the half still up by a considerable amount, I couldn’t have been more impressed with their style of play, their composure and their level of intensity, the question was, how do we bottle such play? This aside, I was still mindful that the wave was yet to come. The third quarter onslaught that had never failed to visit me as a player and as a coach. Early in the aforementioned quarter I was aware that the bench had become shorter, my rotations were not quite as I wanted them to be. I tried with all that I had to lengthen the bench but it appeared that I had lost faith in our ten man rotation. I wasn’t seeing the same degree of confidence in all of us and I wasn’t brave enough to throw caution to the wind. The game, the proximity of the crowd and my promise to get players into the game as much as possible was falling away from me. I tried to address the situation in a timeout, pleading with the team to see themselves as a team, regardless of the role they played. I am not sure my cries were met with any sympathy or interest. I had sat on the bench for many a game and it never bothered me, I knew that as a player there were plenty alongside me that were far more talented than I. It didn’t matter, I would work harder than anybody else, I would help them to be better players because I guarded them with all that I had, that was my role. I went nose to nose with each and every one of them and I wasn’t afraid. Was I expecting this from my players? I wasn’t sure it was my place to impose a way of being, an approach to playing that was not theirs! Yet taking on a role, excepting it and delivering it with all that you had was surely the place of every athlete at every level of play? It all became very ‘cloudy’, I wasn’t sure what my approach was. I knew that they would get longer runs against other teams, that it would balance itself out. Unfortunately, I wasn’t sure that they knew this and that was on me.
The game continued in the same vein throughout the fourth quarter, the opposition pushed and pushed, we countered and eventually came out the other side as the victors. We seemed happy enough, proud of what we had accomplished, the way we had played. However, I could see disappointment, frustration and a little anger. I wanted to comfort those players, to let them know that we, the greater we had just accomplished a milestone within our play, we had competed for forty minutes against a strong opponent and triumphed. It didn’t happen, it needed to, but for the minute it remained unsaid. My granddaughter jumped into my arms, hugged me tight and we went home for ice cream, I had promised her!!