We hadn’t practiced for a week, I had been away in Madrid enjoying the on-court excellence of Movistar Estudiantes, C. B. Fueniabrada and a number of the Madrid youth squads. However, I wasn’t worried, in fact I was pretty comfortable with where we were, what we had developed and our identity, enough so that my drive over to the East coast was a relaxed and pleasant one. The game was due to tip at 10.30am, we had arrived in plenty of time, warmed up and were ready, or so I thought! We started the game with an attempt to show our very best self, however, what we got was a lacklustre reflection of a team that had just enjoyed seven days apart. Our execution was less than what we wanted, we were static, the ball failed to move with any degree of pace or accuracy, and we were unable to score. In any other gym we would have been down, trailing to nothing more than our poor play, however, our opposition seemed happy to join us in our inferior bubble as they too could not put the ball in the basket.
I was all over the place, I could hear a bellowing, an instructive tone directing play, shaping movement and attempting to energise our identity. My coach self was engaged in the game and I could feel the clashes of battle with every bounce of the ball. Every pass, dribble and player movement was accompanied with some kind of commentary, the more I tried to pull my coach self back, to restrict the overt involvement of my coach-centred other, the more I got frustrated. I called a timeout, on both my coach self and the game. I pulled the players together and pleaded with them to find their true self, to allow our identity, who we were and sought to be to shine through. I knew that shouting at them was not me and it wasn’t them and it certainly wasn’t us! Instead, I asked them to trust each other, to fight through our poor execution by communicating and supporting one another. I let them go and allowed myself to smile, to picture our true self.
The game continued to be a rollercoaster of emotions, however, our mistakes were no longer as visible, I had pulled myself together, refocused my attention to presenting a more effective vision of self. We had begun to regain a semblance of self, our play, while not quite what we had in mind, had improved, we began to ‘up’ the pace, spread the floor and attack. Defensively, we remained out of sorts, however, I said nothing, I merely watched from the end of the bench, removed from the players waiting to enter the game and out of sight of the late rotations, missed block outs and ‘blow byes’. I left the players to work it out for themselves, to debate where it was they were going wrong and to solve the problem free from my direction. It was uncomfortable, my instructive self kept fighting for position but I held my ground. I refused to direct the game anymore. Instead, I offered praise, minimal feedback and questioning as a dish best served with the concept of independent thinking athletes.
The conclusion of the game was very much the start of “what next?” What would we do to fix the many poor decisions, inefficient movement and lack of execution present within our play? As I drove home I wonder where the players minds were at, what it was that they were thinking and how they saw the game. Perception is an interesting concept, we each view our performance through a slightly different frame, the lens is often tinted to a certain value, a position that is individual and reflective of self. Perhaps I sought for a vista removed from where the players wished to travel. A land too far in the distance that they were unable to visualise what it offered. Or, is travel dependent on instruction? Is it, that in order to elevate our play we have to be directive, instructional and overt in our behavioural delivery of what is needed in each and every moment of competition? I had spent the previous week defending my vision, citing the associated research literature as a guiding light to improved performance, but everything else was telling me to direct the next performance if I ever wanted to be successful.