We had enjoyed a good practice the night before and I was feeling good about where we were after three weeks of preparation. However, it was 5am and we were about to embark on the 200 mile journey to the City of Edinburgh to face a well coached and talented team.
My pre-game talk was short and to the point, I wanted the boys to feel comfortable, relaxed and confident in their collective identity. I shared a few philosophical positions on work, effort, responsibility and identity. I then asked each of them to give the game their full attention, to recognise the role they would play and to enjoy their contribution to whatever unfolded in the next forty minutes. After this, I let them ‘go’, the warm-up was theirs to own, and although I didn’t agree with the content, I didn’t say anything to them, I let them have the time to express themselves.
We couldn’t have gotten off to a better start if I had been moving the players into place myself. We pushed the ball with authority, it was clear that we were searching for every fast break point on offer. We made every effort to get down the floor and into a scoring position as quickly as possible, it looked like a ‘track meet’. We were communicating, sharing information and taking responsibility for our roles, it was great to watch. In fact, at that moment, I was convinced that what was to follow was going to be an impressive first outing.
In truth, what did unfold was a mixture of actualisations and realisations. We moved through an array of really good and really bad play. In short, our ability to communicate had left us, and with it, any sense of ownership or responsibility. To say that I was frustrated at the level and volume of our mistakes was an understatement. However, I tried very hard to remain positive, to ask questions and to challenge the players to think. I wanted them to use our rules and principles to guide our play and to keep us together. We had inserted these concepts as a way of shaping our development and our collective identity. It was clear that we were yet to be really confident in who we were. This being said, the responses from some of the players was good, it was clear that we had an intelligent team, a group of young athletes that were capable to think and reason their way through mistakes. I just needed to promote autonomy and freedom of expression as a baseline to our style of play. The mistakes we made now would serve us well as we moved deeper into the season.
As we packed up in preparation to ‘hit the road’, I felt that there was a lot that we could take away from the game, both positive, and perhaps not so good, however, what was clear to me, and what I was most pleased about was the level of effort. It was not always controlled or efficient, but it was not lacking by any means. With this in mind, I was happy to conclude my thoughts with the idea that we had something good to build on and that we now had two weeks in which to do so. The greater challenge for me was to deepen my tool box, to be better prepared for the level of coaching I would meet and to be able to respond to the challenge. Why? At times throughout the game I had been out-manoeuvred, tactically vested, and showed no real response. In fact, I think this is perhaps why I wasn’t celebrating as much or allowing myself to enjoy the moment, the players had done their part but I had failed to correct our inefficiency on defence (reaching, late rotations, poor closeouts and a lack of pressure on the ball) and merely provided the players with opportunities to think, to reflect on what they were doing as oppose to offering a way of fixing the issue. In short, I felt that the main issue, at this moment in time, was my ability to coach in a manner that would respond to the U16 Premier League North!