This weekend the Sr. Girls basketball team played in another tournament final. We didn’t win. Now, many people who watched made comments like “Well, you had the chances, the ball just didn’t drop” or “You just couldn’t find your groove” or similar things. These statements are true – on the surface. However, as the coach/leader, I’ve learned to evaluate not just the team performance but mine as well. On reflection, this loss was more about me, as a coach, not making good decisions as it was about the team not shooting well.
As a coach, I’ve never had to cut a player because I’ve never been in a position to have that many players! Each player on our team plays. They have to because we don’t have a long bench. In fact, with everyone there, we have 9 girls. They each have strengths and weaknesses and we work at improving both throughout the season. Our team needs all the players to play – we need everyone to go out and give it their all. It’s just our reality. We don’t have a bunch of height this year but we have other strengths. Last night I didn’t coach to those strengths. I had a game plan and we stuck to it – too long – too late I realized it wasn’t going to work. By then the girls were frustrated, tired and somewhat disheartened. We regrouped at half but it was too late. Next practice, I’ll let the team know that the loss was probably due more to my decisions than their playing. It was a coaching error not a playing error.
Was the loss a failure? Absolutely not! It’s only our 2nd all year and it provided us with some more incentive to work hard at practice, focus on the drills and put in the time. Although it was a disappointment it was by no means a failure. It was LEARNING! We all learned – the team and I – we learned. It was important learning – critical to our future success.
Behind the Bench
This is my 17th year as a basketball coach. In fact, I’ve coached most sports over my teaching career. I’ve had the honour of coaching a team all the way to provincials and a few to Regional Playoffs. Basketball has been the sport I have coached the longest and the one I knew the least about when I started. In fact, when I first started, I didn’t really consider basketball a sport. Growing up on Canadian prairies, I did what so many other youth do, I curled. And played hockey and volleyball and badminton and did track but there was no basketball. None.
17 years later, I’ve learned quite a bit about the sport but I still know very little. That is why I watch video on YouTube, subscribe to newsletters, check regularly a few key websites and, whenever possible, watch what other teams are doing. I have to be willing to learn and adjust what I do as a coach so that the each member of the team can continue to get better. Having coached primarily teenage girls, I’ve also developed a sense of what works with motivating them, what helps to keep them focused, when to push and when to lay off. Today we didn’t have our usual practice because the team needed time off. They needed to rest. Some of the seniors will be going over the game throughout the day and will come to our next practice determined to improve. The juniors will follow them.
Being a Leader
What I’ve described above is somewhat of a mirror reflection of my journey as a teacher/administrator. I started teaching not really knowing what it was about. The first few “seasons” were losing seasons. None were winless but some were pretty darn close. I became determined to improve since I couldn’t cut any players, I needed to figure out how to help each of them. I eventually figured out that if I stuck to “my game plan” and didn’t pay attention to what was happening with the team – we’d lose. ALL of us would lose.
Now as an administrator, it’s the same thing. By no means do I know it all as a school administrator but I have become better at leading because I’ve become better at using all the talent in the room. I can’t cut anyone! Instead, my role is to seek out those strengths and talents, encourage and grow them while at the same time working on the weaknesses. For teachers, each day is game day – 5 days a week. But it’s about the season – we want to have a winning season with students. However, will there will be days when it just doesn’t flow and it won’t be a “winning game” or you’ll have a bad “quarter” and that is when, as an educational leader, I ask teachers to reflect and critically evaluate what they did, the decisions they made and the “plays” they called. Sometimes it’s a student having an off day. But sometimes, it has nothing to do with the students – it’s our actions/reactions/game plan that needs to be adjusted.
To Err Is Human – To Forgive Divine
We will make mistakes. It will happen. In fact, if it doesn’t, I’m thinking that you have a talented group that isn’t being challenged. It’s like being a 4A team playing in a 1A league – you’ll be a winner but what will the players learn? No challenge – little growth – little development – limited progress. If you challenge them, there will be mistakes and unsuccessful attempts but it will be how you react that will be critical in development. Are you willing to self-evaluate critically? Will you admit it was partly your error? Will you point out how you made the error and discuss it? Will you change that loss into growth and improvement? Will you be willing to forgive – them and yourself? It is a critical step – letting go and moving on – not dwelling on the mistake but focusing on looking for improvement – in yourself and your “team”.
As a coach, I serve my team. That is my role. Yes, I push them at practice, find the drills and make game decisions but I serve the team – building individual talent to make us a better team. As a school administrator, I have a similar role. In both cases, I cannot play the game/teach for the others. I have to relinquish control of the play – I am there to serve. So, when I err, I must be willing to accept it but then, demonstrate that it is a learning experience – model life-long learning – seek out solutions and then begin the task of working with the team, learning from what has happened. As a coach I server – I lead – as an educational administrator it’s the same thing.