There is nothing more intriguing than the presented self, the coach persona put forward prior to competition. Shoulders back, chest out and head up! I greet each coach and their preferred persona with respect, respect for their experience, their commitment to the role of coach and to the hours invested in being coach.
The boys appear confident, relaxed and ready to compete. I on the other hand am somewhat disappointed with our previous night together. We had arrived Friday evening as we had a early Saturday morning start. We met for an hour and then I allowed them to spend time free from me. I had hoped that they may share some time together and then get to bed early. Instead, we had multiple sub groups and players still up past 11pm. Had I taken empowerment too far? I didn’t want to tell, rather I wanted them to work it out in the same way I was going to ask them to do so on the court.
Our first game was against the North West, a talented region, big, strong and aggressive. In my seven years of Regional coaching, I had always found the NW to be a formidable opponent. During our warm up one of the parents had noticed that I was coaching alone and kindly offered her son as a support for me. Working with an assistant coach was really good, it helped that he was a good guy, young, good basketball mind, really helpful and got on with the players really well.
We got off to a great start, moved the ball, played D, exactly what we were looking for. I couldn’t be happier, in fact, I was saying very little to the players on the court and only posing questions to the bench players. However, as is only to be expected, we began to break down, individually and collectively, we made a number of simple mistakes that cost us. The ball began to stick and we went away from our team game. I also missed a number of important reads, counters that hurt us and which I had failed to respond to them. Overall, I was pleased with the general performance of the team but required a little more from a number of individuals, including myself.
Our second game started out poorly for us, we failed to recognise the speed of tournament play and our responses were less then effective. I called a time out to try and settle us down, to get us thinking about who we are and what we wanted to do. I had used the term “we are 12” the night before as a means of getting them to think about more than just their individual play and I wanted to remind them of just that. We were now down by twelve, their heads were lowered and we needed a change. I made a number of substitutions and encouraged them to play our game. With just 23 seconds to go in the final quarter we had closed the gap to just 1-point, we had possession of the ball and a timeout. You couldn’t ask for a better scenario. I smiled, told them what a great job they had done and asked them how they wanted to win the game. We had three looks at the basket before the game clock expired, we had put ourselves in a position to win and I couldn’t ask for more than that.
We went on to win our next four games, three of which I believe I stuck to what it was we were trying to do. That is empower the athletes, let everybody play and promote development through questioning and listening. The only game I was unhappy with myself was the London game. We played great defence but our offence was all about the individual player, which I felt cost us a great deal of team capital. In other words, we lost some players in that game, they gave up playing as they didn’t see the ball, we were not playing our style of basketball, and we had to rely on individual talent and play to get us through the game.
I came away from the tournament exhausted but pleased, pleased with how the boys had come together and pleased with how we played. The fact that we won the tournament shield wasn’t important as such, we had competed, we had a game plan and for the most part we executed it. I had seen that there’s is a way to play that encourages team play, that is effective and allows for independent thinking athletes to shine. On my drive home I had already moved on to pre-season, who I would be coaching, what it would look like and how I would work to instil independence, confidence and a commitment to team.