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Basketball against the Zen:

There is a state championship team in basketball. They have multiple D1 athletes recruited in multiple sports. They are trying to recapture their former glory with one last run with the seniors who make up the bulk of their D1 ensemble. I have watched them play twice this year and have followed them intently.

            The first game I saw, they easily beat their opponent. In realty, the game was over by half time as they held a commanding lead. The coach subbed liberally and made sure all the players got into the game. However, after the game was over, I was fortunate enough to be able to talk to an assistant coach, and I could see certain cracks forming in their foundation. The assistant reaffirmed my suspicion in a general way. It was interesting to see that he was not comfortable with the team but could not put his finger on the problem.
            In the second game I saw, they got out to an early lead, but after each successive basket they scored (or didn’t score), their star player complained to an official. He was flopping on the ground, looking up to the refs, and raising his hands and arms in frustration. What he should have been frustrated with was his inability to model proper behavior to his teammates, underclassmen, and friends.
            One of their starters, another D1 recruits, albeit a very low level D1 recruit, started to misbehave. He would not pass to certain players on occasion and wanted to be the show. A different player, a D1 recruit in another sport, was flexing his size and muscle. When the other team came back, making the game close, his frustration was evident. He ended up being close to the other team during a time out and made a comment to their bench as he went to his team’s huddle. He also griped to his coach when he was taken out of the game. You could see the coaches’ frustration in their team’s behavior and play.
            The score remained close until the end of the game. The other team battled hard. A standout point in the game happened when the other team’s best player fouled out, and his team started to play better. An injury to a player on his team afforded extra playing time to a previous bench player, and that player responded with improved play. He didn’t all of a sudden get better; he just all of a sudden got a chance to play more.
            This is my solution, as I was asked by an observer what I thought of the contest. First, the coach of the winning team had tasted the glory and fruits of victory. He truly believed that he had the talent to repeat as champions. What he didn’t realize is that the very things that had made him successful and driven his team to a championship were now missing. The unselfishness had been replaced by selfishness. The discipline that allowed them to beat other teams with equal or more ability was missing. Misbehaving players were not benched, and were allowed to continue their poor behavior. In a game against their top rival they fell behind, but their superior talent allowed them to come back and win. Now, it was too late. People were saying the “inmates were running the asylum”. But the fact was, a slow deterioration of balance and teamwork had eroded the advantage talent had given them. They are still kids. They need guidance. They need to know there are boundaries. The coach did not want to mess up the apple cart. He was under a lot of pressure to win. He thought he had a formula that led them to their state championship, and he was not going to mess with it, but you could tell by his body language he was not happy with his team.
            What he did not understand was that this was not the same team that won the state championship. The same things that got them to the championship were not the same things needed to repeat that success. Discipline not needed on the way up was paramount now, and needed to be handed out and enforced fairly. The subs were now more important than ever to help push everyone involved to return to their previous level of play. A different scenario was now present, and through lack of training, awareness, or the necessary capacity, the chances of repeating that success were dimmed. This is what happens to teams. They get a false sense of security or superiority, and they feel like they can do it again. They can turn the talent switch on and off when they feel like it. But this is not true. Balance is lost, discipline is compromised, short term victory replaces long term success without anyone realizing it, and victory slips away.

Written by : VJS