So I saved the hardest for last. Probably because it’s hardest. Maybe because I needed a lot of time to think it through. As you’ve seen from the previous posts, I have obviously questioned whether our team under achieved this season, and I put most of that on myself. The success of individual player’s and the team feel like my responsibility. Similar to the other posts though, measuring that success, or lack thereof, and my role in it is much more difficult.
While I thought about this in many different ways, the simplest turned out to be most effective. Where did I succeed and where did I fail. I thought about a lot of categories – practice productivity, team culture, work-life balance, building relationships. To be honest, I overwhelmed myself with it at times, which is why it took so long to write. At the end of the day, my ability to simplify is essential to feeling successful.
I should probably start with the negatives and end with the good stuff, but I need to build up my confidence a little bit before I critique myself too harshly.
Practice Productivity – This was far from successful for the whole season but one of my goals was to make our practices more efficient. We ended in a very good place and it feels like we built a strong understanding that players will be able to carry over into next season. Two big keys to this success:
- Moving to a Tuesday-Friday game schedule (from Tuesday-Thursday-Saturday). Wednesday and Saturday practices focused on us – individual skills, getting in the weight room, and improve our offensive and defensive foundation. Monday and Thursday became game preparation practices, with scouting reports and game specific individual and team work.
- Halftime – We instituted a new practice this season of a halftime in practice. We would come together at halfcourt and recognize one thing that was going well and one thing we could improve. Some days we even asked about success during the school day (I’d like to expand my options a bit). It gave players a chance to reflect in practice and refocus, whether things had been going well or not. I think it also led to more productive half time conversations in the locker room during games.
- Toward the end of the season, we took our team to watch a college practice. Although there are significant differences between us and this college team, the energy, cohesion, and focus in practice should be similar. Our guys did well to learn from this experience (without the coaches saying much) and our practices got a huge boost in each of those areas.
Continuing to build a strong team culture – After watching Loyola-Chicago’s run in the NCAA tourney last year and seeing their Wall of Culture, I attempted something along those lines. I don’t have a wall in our locker room, but I was able to find out which words have stuck. As coaches, we say many things and hope that they stick. So when I asked, I was hopeful players actually remembered what we say so often, and to my relief they did. It was affirming in one way, and made me recognize a few key elements that we still needed to work on.
At the end of the season, I asked each player to list one thing they learned and one thing they would do to make us better next season. Here are the most critical ideas they shared.
- the importance of confidence and positivity
- the need to trust each other but also to speak up when necessary
- we each have a role to play and to succeed we have to accept that role and succeed in it before being given more responsibility
- keep it simple – slow down, communicate, be precise, take care of the ball
The two things they wanted to do most to improve for next season: get in the weight room and demonstrate persistent positivity. As a coach who wants to believe in the possibility of basketball teaching players more than just a game, this helped me feel a little less frustrated about our shortcomings.
Coaching-Life Balance – Two seasons ago, I changed jobs from teaching to administration, knowing it might be a challenge, which it was. A huge goal for me this season was to be mentally and physically healthier over the course of the season. I am proud to say this was a success. The shift in schedules made a huge difference in this effort. Last season, on most Tuesday nights, I had to try to process the results of a game, finalize a game plan, and design the next day’s practice plan in a few hours. This season, my assistants and I could consider the results of a game and come up with a rough practice plan in the locker room, and then I could go home eat dinner with my family and even read to my son before he went to sleep; without thinking basketball while I was doing it. I watched all but one of my son’s YMCA games this season and even attended a few of his practices. For about two-thirds of the season, I was even able to get in the weight room and keep my strength and weight up. Unfortunately, my team missing the playoffs doesn’t allow this success to feel as positive as I would have liked.
There are clearly a number of areas our team can grow and all of them fall on my shoulder in some way, but there are a few areas that stand out to me as clear struggles. The basically boil down to two key elements – relationships and delegation.
Delegation – While I succeeded at my goal of balancing personal life and coaching, and had mild success with practice efficiency, my third goal this season did not go well. My goal was to communicate more clearly with assistants, give them more responsibility, and provide more guidance than trying to run everything on my own. In my 5 years as head coach, this has been my biggest challenge. Early on, I worked somewhat intentionally to ask for input, give my assistants areas to lead in practice, and help with game planning. Unfortunately, I didn’t stick with it and I don’t think I gave enough guidance to make this work as well as it needed to.
Relationships – I might be harder on myself in this area than I should, but there were a few relationships that left a lot to be desired this season. Coaching relationships need to improve to help with delegation. Player relationships is the crux of any coaching success though.
The truth is I have a lot of wandering thoughts in this area, but no cohesive element to draw them together. Maybe that is why it feels unsuccessful at the moment. I think I connect with players consistently during the season. In a general sense, we laughed together, we shared our hopes, we cried together, we talked about basketball and we talked about school and college and career goals. But it felt like there was something missing at times.
It felt like I worked hard at my highs and lows – the emotional players who need to be pacified to rejoin the team and stop worrying about themselves, or the quiet, end of the bench players who found it difficult to bring energy on a daily basis. The in-between players, the guys who just show up and work every day, but rarely get the recognition for it, got less attention. It is frustrating to think that I didn’t have a breakthrough with the high-low players and the workers didn’t get as much attention as they deserved.
If anyone has suggestions or resources that offer strategies about how to make more meaningful connections with players and how to delegate, I’d really appreciate it. I know that improving in these areas doesn’t happen naturally. I need to be intentional about this growth and holding myself accountable to systems that help me improve is essential.
As I try to pull these ideas together, the key goal is to focus my energy. Lots of people are taking on the trend of choosing a word to help them clarify their goals and work more deliberately. Going forward, I need to simplify. It is almost easier to do more than less; definitely in coaching but in most fields. The book “Great at Work” uses one phrase to highlight that point.
Do less then obsess
Looking back, my areas of success were those in which we did simplify and focus. The areas of failure were those in which I didn’t simplify, and also didn’t really know how to.
It is easy to set out the goal of simplicity, but one area I could clearly improve is focus in the middle of the season. My desire to over prepare can lead to the concern of doing many things well, but few things great. At one point this season, after a tough stretch of losses, we did just that – simplified our approach, focused on our foundation, and emphasized being great at a few things. Hindsight being 20/20, this should have happened earlier and may have helped us avoid those losses; but maybe I wouldn’t have gotten the wake up call and learning opportunity without them.
I talk to our team a lot about mantras, phrases that help us remember key elements of our culture and strategy. I need to remember these for myself as well. Obviously, from the name of my blog, I don’t mind wandering and getting lost. I think you have to wander to find the right path. How long and winding the path is, however, is up to me. Looking forward, I simply need to be more intentional about keeping things simple.