My high school basketball team suffered a tough loss last night to our first district foe of the season and county rival. It was an especially frustrating loss given that we were leading at halftime by 5 and the opposing team had one player outscore my entire team in both the 3rd and 4th quarters! (We have been planning for weeks on how to defend this player and did a great job – in the first half)!
After the game, I was far too disappointed to determine where do we go from here or how I handle practice today…so I slept on it! And awoke realizing that we just have to stay the course. My team has dealt with a good deal of loss the the last two seasons. We have seen improvement this season in several of our individuals and, team chemistry as a whole is on an all time high, but they haven’t been able to put many games in the “win” column.
I was asked earlier in the season from a long-time coach friend of mine who knew the competitor I was in high school and college, “How do you keep your team motivated when they aren’t winning?” This is tricky territory. In the pre-season you want to play teams who will challenge you and essentially make you better as a player…and boy oh boy have we this year! We have met and lost to the top three teams in our side of the state, at least one of which will surely vie for a state title in a month or so. The answer to my friend’s question (not that I like being the authority on a win-less streak), is to WIN THE BATTLES!
Each game I develop for my players a series of “battles” they need to “win” each quarter and game. Most often they include Rebounding, Communication, Reducing Turn-Overs and being Warriors. The Warrior battle is my personal favorite….its complete hustle on every single possession. Its setting screens, diving after loose balls, taking charges and all out giving your team everything you have; some coaches call it the “dirty work”. At half-time and the end of the game we evaluate these battles and explain to the team where our improvement needs to lie and what we need to do to get to where we want to be at the end of the game or in the future. I find that this process has worked pretty well, and usually if we are winning battles we are winning the game on the scoreboard as well.
The tricky part in having a struggling season is maintaining the understanding of “how to win.” Seems easy right, play good defense and out score the other team! Not even close, its about keeping momentum, maintaining the clock and dealing with the other teams’ adjustments to your good play. This is where I think my team is struggling at the moment. I know that we are as good as anyone in our district and that we have played teams in our early season to prepare us for district play, but the current battle for me is to get the team to buy in to a winning attitude. We are unfortunately in a position that we HOPE to win, not that we go out in a game and battle and WANT to win. My team has almost forgotten that fortune do not just happen to us, we have to go out on that court every night and MAKE our own fortune.
So, my job for the day….proving this concept to my team! Not a small task by any standard, but my plan is to stay the course with our team objectives and battles and to instill in them that I have full faith in their ability to improve as athletes and to win games…now its time for them to believe it too and go to work!