FIRE-UP FRIDAY! We’re heading into single-elimination playoffs this weekend. Here are three scenarios in terms of team morale, ability, won-loss records to date, and suggestions on how to handle.
#1 TEAM OF LITTLE FAITH: This is the team that hasn’t won, either because it’s a weaker group or it’s a team that is just in over its head in every game, or a combination of both. In situations like this, it goes without saying that parents have thrown in their uninvited two cents and some may have crossed the line (emails to the director, a parent rushing the huddle and coach at halftime complaining about playing time when his kid was playing, venting to another coach, telling their kid “not your fault”, kid saying “coach never does that” when it’s not true). Even when coach knows this is all happening (and that the director is all over it), coach has to rise above the madness and give the kids a big boost. Let a few kids give the pre-game rah-rah (15-30 seconds max), and assign players specific goals – 3 deflections, 3 rebounds, 4 assists, 2 steals. Each player must feel like they can and will contribute. Coach says we’re in this together and does everything to remain positive during the game. End of game – win or lose, more positive vibes, and ask the kids to go around and say what they learned from the game or the season, and the areas they are going to work on individually to improve for next year.
Note: I had a team like this last year. After a series of frustrating games, I moved them down a division and they were upset after we gave our strongest player to the other team (she was young and straddling both teams.) We had six players and they were awful. The other team reveled in the upset. The post-game wasn’t exactly positive and I regret this piece, yet one girl was crying, and honestly, that told me more about her. She felt awful for letting her team and me down. So I cut it there, and told them to learn from what happened this season and go out and make changes on their own. This year I passed this team to another coach, who did a nice job with them. They are close to the top of the division and doing much better.
#2 TEAM UNDERDOG: This is my grade 5 boys team. We have been down our point guard due to several family conflicts. He also can’t make it to mandatory practice on Saturday after missing all of last weekend and the game before, and neither can the point guard who took his spot and has been doing quite well. In my book, even though it’s playoffs, the rules still have to apply. I have to hope that another player can hold us together long enough for me to get these two in, and get a nice rotation going. I’ll have one of the boys do the pre-game speech and remind them of the size of the fight in the dog. We’ve dubbed ourselves junkyard dogs. We do a group bark before the game and sometimes during it. We will play as hard as we can. I do hope we play well – win or lose—at the end of the season. We were dynamite last weekend, yet we still lost. I do love the way this team has handled our season, and I am grateful for the parent support.
#3 TEAM FAVORITE: This would be my 7th grade boys group. For most of the season, I put them in over their heads in the grade 7-8 division (big difference in one year at this age), and in the 7th grade division. They’re now either the top seed or second seed in the 7A division (I can’t recall – either way is fine). The biggest issue this year has been finishing our shots. A few kids are still shying away from getting hit. I think they’re growing quite a bit, so coordination is an issue. I’ll ask one of the boys to mention focus on shooting (eyes on a dot on the rim or corner of the board, not the entire goal and board) in the pre-game FIRE UP! Then I’ll tell the kids about what it means to say nothing, and walk onto the court like my high school team did, and just own every inch of the floor. I’ll remind the kids that I’ve heard “The 7X team isn’t that good” (from a team that was down 11 to us at the half and lost to us by 31 when I wasn’t there). I’ll say how kids now want to try out for the X team because they think they’re good enough. I will remind them about the team that lost to us in a 3OT game – they’re coming at us thinking we’re just lucky, and not talented. Then the boys can decide how to handle it.
We’re the coaches. They’re the players. It may appear that we have control; however, the truth is that sometimes we do, but most of the time we do not. After all, the preparation and strategy is set; come game time, it’s a player’s game. Win or lose, it’s up to the players to determine the level of heart, teamwork and IQ they’re going to put into their individual and collective end-of-season effort.