It’s about the season – not the game

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.



  1. Reply

    My youngest son has nearly finished his first season of under 10 basketball in a team much like your first few seasons – they have only managed one win against a team in a similar spot to them. They are mainly beginners and even at this age group have come up against very accomplished teams who have had it over them in terms of skill. But we’ve seen two types of coaching – the first from a few teams who smashed our team by scores like 70 – 0. Their coaches had their team playing intimidation basketball, pressuring them at all opportunities and went all out to amass the hugest score – at the expense of any confidence my son’s team may have had. Our coach is very patient and said that he didn’t expect anything in terms of results from the boys for at least half the season as he would be teaching a lot of foundation skills and concepts. But those big losses took a lot of joy out of the team. I’m not too sure what the coaches in charge got out of those wins either.

    The last two games we’ve played have been against other teams near the top of the ladder. But their coaches were very different. After every score, they had their team retreat back to their defensive half so that our team had the chance to bring the ball back down the court. They weren’t playing the intimidation game – they could see from the first few minutes that they had our measure – so they concentrated on specific plays, specific formations in defence. And for a change, my son’s team felt like they could breathe, that they could work some things out for themselves without a gun player from the opposition swooping in and making them pay. When they scored for the first time in the first of these two games, the opposition parents even cheered and applauded! Even they lost easily, they walked off the court feeling a lot better about themselves, felt like they had showed improvement and feeling that the opposition hadn’t smashed, had shown them some respect even though they are a team of learners. The winners still got their win, got to improve by working on specific plays and left everyone feeling like the game was fun.

    I really like our coach and he is great with the boys. But if we were looking to join one of the other teams in the competition, I know where I’d be taking my son. Thanks for sharing your story, Kelly.

  2. Pingback: More Than One Way To Win « Graham Wegner – Open Educator

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