Even great teams struggle. I often believe the struggle is a gift, but it certainly doesn’t feel much like a gift when your team is going through it. As a coach, I have learned it is important to reflect on the positives and strengths of the team, not only physically, but especially mentally, and to believe in the process.
Last year, John Kessel distributed a Gold Medal Squared article written by Rob Browning, St. Mary’s Head Coach, as his team was going through the “gift” of the struggle. It is a great article (below) with a great message, but it didn’t mean much to me last year as our Winthrop team was rolling and ended the season 20 – 8 and Big South Regular Season Champs. This season, we have an even better team, but nine freshman. Yes, nine. Even us “old” coaches have fallen into the societal/technological trap of instant gratification and want a faster result for our team.
This season, I have thought about Rob’s article and it certainly strikes a bigger chord. Ironically, this piece was written on September 28, 2011. His team lost 3 straight matches and lost 2 more immediately following this article. After this 5 game skid, the St. Mary’s team won 11 of their next 13 matches.
Staying the Course–Process over Outcome
Last Thursday we played our first conference match of the year at BYU–a new member of the West Coast Conference. We knew they were very good–even better than when we played them earlier in the season. I felt like we were ready to play well and we were expecting a very competitive match. It wasn’t competitive. We got crushed in straight sets.
As good as BYU is, we certainly didn’t make it very difficult for them. In my seven years at Saint Mary’s I don’t believe we have ever played that poorly from start to finish in any match. Against a team like BYU, if you simply show up they are going to embarrass you–which they did.
We still aren’t sure exactly why we played so poorly. Maybe it was simply a confluence of everybody on our team having an off night. Maybe there were nerves. Maybe I did not prepare them well for the opponent. Maybe it was all of the above. Whatever it was, it was ugly.
During the match we gave the best tactical feedback we could and we did our best to motivate them to play better. It just wasn’t happening.
After the match I was very candid with them and I told them that I had thoughts of making them run sprints up the hill by the gym, or tearing into them verbally–ranting and raving like a lunatic. I told them that when they play like that it makes me question everything we are doing. I had the urge to do something radically different. I wanted to make a statement.
In the end, what we did was no different from what we always do. We went back to work.
It is tempting, when we are coaching, to react in some extreme way when things are not going the way we expect them to go. My ego has gotten in the way many times in my coaching career, and that’s when we blow up and start yelling and screaming and threatening. In such moments we need to check our egos and think about what is truly best for the team.
If we are doing our very best in preparation for a match, then no matter how the match goes, all we can do after the match is continue to do our very best.
So we are staying the course. We are as invested in the process of excellence now as we were before, and we aren’t going to let a bad match derail us from doing what we believe are the right things, or from doing things the right way. If we need to do those things better, then we will. If we need to make some changes for the better, we will change. But we shouldn’t make things worse by violating the principles we believe in simply because we feel “something has to change!”.
It doesn’t sound very exciting, I know. But in the end, we are demonstrating that we truly are dedicated to what we believe in when we adhere to the principles that are the foundation of our team. When we fly off the handle and start going crazy, we are sending the message that we don’t believe.
The message I want the team to hear, loud and clear, is “I BELIEVE”.
Here is the article on Gold Medal Squared’s Blog: http://www.goldmedalsquared.com/blog/2011/09/staying-the-course-process-over-outcome/
It’s not exactly the way we envision a season, but things often work out positively when we believe and work hard towards a common goal and process.