- A close coaching friend has been named head coach at a high school that has not had a winning season in eight years. The school does have a winning tradition prior to that and does have some talent returning. He asked me to say a few words at the end of their summer workouts. I have taken out the specific references and hope you might be able to use part of it, even if your situation is not exactly like this one.
I believe that you can change from losing to winning quickly–that means this season. What it takes is talent (which you have) and a change in mindset which your coaches will instill in you. That change in mindset means that you are going to have to make major improvements in these six areas.
None of this stuff is easy, but you know what? It is not supposed to be easy!!
In my opinion, winning is about six things.
- Toughness (Mental and Physical)
- Skills and schemes (Your individual Skills and Your coaches’ offenses and defenses)
- Your program’s culture
- Playing hard
- Playing smart
- Playing together
These things are things that your coaches are going to work with you on. You Have two of the six–you have a good program culture and you play hard, so you aren’t starting at the beginning, but there is a long way to go. The good news is that you can, and I believe that you will, get there!
I am going to tell you three things that I want you to take with you and I hope that they contribute to your progress. I am going to give you those three things now, and then will expand on each of them:
1. Your school has won in the past, can win again, and it can happen this year and with you guys.
2. For it to happen, you must listen to your coaches and do more than they expect! I will talk about what I mean by that in a few minutes.
3. I believe that mental toughness is essential to being the best that you can be. Anyone be as mentally tough as they want to be. It is
a matter of making up your mind that you are going to be tough and then sticking with your decision, and not let others influence you or
keep you from being tough.
- Now I would like to expand on those three points a little.
- You can win and you have the chance to make it happen and be a part of the team that caused the change. You have a great opportunity to be remembered as the team that changed your basketball program for the better. We won in the past and anything that has happened in the past can happen again.
Your average game was a 10 point loss last year–changing one play per quarter means an 8 point swing for the game–which gives you a chance. It is certainly easier said than done. Nothing worthwhile is ever easy, but the opportunity is there for you. You have a great opportunity. Are you willing to give the total effort every possession, 50 times a game, that is needed to Make an 8 point swing on defense? Your coaches can help on offense by teaching you to play smarter and by improving your skills.
You don’t win without playing defense. Take the NBA and NCAA final games.
The score for the 7th game of the NBA finals would have been LA 55 Boston 53 for a 32 minute high school game–and that is with a 24 second shot clock.
The Butler–Duke score would have been Duke 49 Butler 47 in 32 minutes. Butler held every team but Duke under 60 (48 in high school) to get to the finals. My point is that the best teams are great defensively in addition to being able to score.
What does it take to play together? A lot, but one one thing is for sure, no team has ever been great without great role players. Can you think of one? Lakers?, Celtics?, Duke?, Butler? The best teams on your schedule? They all have outstanding role players.
What is a role player? Here is my definition: A role player is a player who is more concerned with team success than with individual recognition because he knows that team success comes from doing what the coaches want him to do. Even bad teams have leading scorers and all conference players. No coach ever has a problem finding guys who want to shoot the ball. All coaches are always looking for players to do the dirty job.
I coached a lot of great guys. I am going to tell you one story about a role player my first year as a head coach. He averaged 2 points a game and led the team in minutes played. He guarded the other team’s best player, he was our primary ballhandler, he was a designated screener. If he was in the game he took the ball out. We were tied at the last game of the regular season. He turned his ankle and was on the bench with his shoe off and ankle in a bucket off ice water. We had the ball out of bounds with 2 seconds left and I wanted to put him in the game. He stood on one foot without a shoe on the other and inbounded the ball. We scored and won the game. That is a team player. I wanted him to throw the ball in because he gave us a far better chance to win with him inbounding the ball.
It is your job to get so good at something that the team isn’t as good if you aren’t in there for that role. I guarantee that your coaches will know who the inbounds passer they want inbounding the ball is. They will know who their best on ball defender, off ball defender, block out player, screener, and so on. There is no reason that each of you can’t find a way to contribute. We had guys who came in the last minute to foul. We had guys who contributed by working extremely hard in practice.
Work as if everything depends on you performing your role–act as if nothing depends on you.
- The best advice that I always give players is to listen to your coach. When it comes to basketball, you have to tune them in and tune everyone else out. There is no doubt that the people who give you advice care about you, but they are not at practice every day and don’t have the information to know what they are talking about regarding your basketball team. They don’t have to have a big picture view of everyone, they only focus on you because they want you to do well. The bottom line is that someone who is at practice every day and does have the big picture in mind is going to be who you need to listen to. Everyone on the team has to listen to one voice and be pulling in the same direction for team success. That voice is your coach’s voice.
- You can be as mentally tough as you want to be. You don’t have to be big, you don’t have to be mean, you don’t have to be talented. You can think anything you want to think in your mind. Mental toughness is the ability to maintain a focus on your role and the coaches instructions even under pressure from the fans, the other team, the scoreboard, and yourself.
You saw an example of how to be tough and play as a team when you watched Butler.
As far as mental toughness. Did you ever see a Butler player even look concerned, scared, or worried? Even after they lost a big lead against Syracuse and when they were playing in the most pressure packed game of their lives–the national championship game–you could see it on their faces. They never lost their faith in each other.
Developing Mental Toughness can happen in one minute. You can make a determined decision to be tough. It is up to you and you alone. Then, the hard part is keeping your commitment to be mentally tough every day. That is what separates the winners from the losers.
Here is what mental toughness is: You keep your mind focused on your assignment and playing the game the right way. You don’t get distracted by anything that ANYONE says or does that is keeping you from what you want. You don’t lose an unshakeable faith in yourself and your teammates to come through even in the toughest circumstances. You create your own attitude by what is inside you, and are not influenced by what is going on around you.
It doesn’t help to think about the worst that can happen in a tight game. If you are shooting a free throw with the game still in doubt, how does it help to worry about missing? It doesn’t. It does help to envision yourself making the shots. That is one part of mental toughness.
I have coached tough players whose families had a lot of money. I have coached tough players whose families had nothing. I have coached mentally tough players who were good students and those who were average students. Talented players and “role” players. All Conference and guys who played 2 minutes a game. It doesn’t have to do with age. I have coached mentally tough freshmen on the varsity. None of that matters.
I plan on coming to see you guys play some this winter and I want to see you playing together as a team by fulfilling your roles, playing the way the coaches want you to play, playing hard and smart on defense, and being the most mentally tough team on your schedule. Good luck!
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