Return to practice

There is something about that first practice of the season, expectations consume your thoughts and you search for the perfect start. Over the last four season I had sought to open our annual campaign with a stakeholder meeting. I believe that getting everybody involved in the preparation and delivery of the season that was to follow gave a voice to their expectations for the year. In fact, I would go as far as to say that this first meeting was by far the most important part of the season because without it we didn’t have a direction.

We gathered in a large room, I tried hard not to make the space look like a pre school setting, especially in light of the pleasingly high number of parents that had shown their support and arrived ready to contribute. I introduced myself, spoke of gratitude for everybody’s attendance and enthusiasm for the season ahead, and set out what it was I hoped we could achieve. As was to be expected, some of the boys were quiet, yet they all joined in, eager to offer their player self and share opinions that were important to them.

The parents and players spent twenty minutes scribbling down their goals and expectations for the season. I had asked them to frame their thoughts into three categories, ‘what they expected for the season’, ‘what they expected from each other’, and what they expected from me, the coach’. We then sat and went through them, sharing our thoughts and feelings and expanding on the two mind maps that had been produced. It was both a meaningful and successful exercise, a great many positive ideas emerged from the inner thoughts and feelings of these twenty or so stakeholders. Ideas that would shape my practice and help me to be a better version of my coach self.

We moved on to the court for our final forty-five minutes. I wanted to provide the players with an opportunity to show me how they play the game, how they approached the decision-making that was inherent within the game and yet hidden in the depth of coaching and play. The eleven players in attendance were athletic, long bodied and energetic. We moved through a number of technically based sets, at pace, but with little direction from me. I set problems, asked them to think and allowed them to play. The style of play was very much dribble drive first. It seemed that on every catch the players immediately ‘put the ball on the floor’. There was no pause for contemplation, no look in the forward and rear view mirrors before driving. It was almost automatic and somewhat removed from how I saw the game.

Looking forward, I see some negotiation, a sharing of ideas and philosophies as a means of bringing us together. Our first task will be to establish a climate of learning that is motivational, safe and allows each individual to trust in what our collective is trying to achieve. Having gotten everybody together, I feel confident that this is very much a thinking group, an intelligent gaggle that will challenge one another. I believe this will allow for shared meaning to evolve and shape who we are and how we play the game. It is this element of my practice that I am most confident in, the relationships that I build and the strength I offer to each individual. Strength to lead, to express confidence and to be the very best version of themselves.

As I sit at my desk planning our first full practice I can almost see the hardwood in front of me. The players are gliding in and out of spaces, communicating and interacting in a manner that promotes ball movement, collaboration and a sharing of roles. I am already excited at the time we will spend together, the challenges that we will face and the opportunities that will present themselves. When asked why I coach, it is this vision of the game I see before me, pictures of the game in its purist sense. Moments when a group of young people have come together and produced something that they couldn’t do the day before. Coaching is often referred to as a social construction, agents working together towards a common and shared goal. Being part of that is the reason why I call myself coach.

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