We’ve all heard the “you must treat every game and every opponent the same” speech a million times from our coaches growing up, professional athletes, sports analysts and broadcasters. In fact, I think I even mentioned it an early season blog after a loss to a lesser opponent. But really, is that possible? As a coach is it realistic to expect your players to treat playing a poor non-conference opponent as they would your biggest conference rival, another highly-ranked team or fellow conference contender? Shoot, do you and your fellow coaching staff members treat them all the same?
PLEASE NOTE: Below are just my thoughts and opinions. I would love to hear other coaches’ feedback on their thoughts and experiences.
First of all it depends on your definition of “treat every game the same.” I strongly believe that there is no way you can have the same emotion and intensity for every game due to numerous influences in the equation. Disagree? Honestly ask yourself if you have the same level of eagerness, excitement and intensity when comparing the following instances; Home game vs. away game. 21,000 fans in a packed arena vs. 1,000 fans in an “empty” arena. Home game vs. road game. Nationally televised vs. no television. Rival and conference championship contender vs. a team with a poor record. If you can honestly say your emotions are the same for each of those instances, congratulations but you probably need to take some de-stressing medication and smile once in a while. I’m a pretty emotional, enthusiastic and passionate guy so honestly, there is no way my emotions are the same for each of those instances.
But emotion to me isn’t what the statement in question is referring to. I believe that in order to be great you DO need to treat every game, every opponent, every responsibility, every day with the same preparation, effort and focus NO MATTER the job. Sure, this is difficult as well, but I think the most successful people in all professions become the best because no job or no opponent is too small for them. The top medical sales reps hunt business no matter the size of the hospital or medical business. They don’t see a small mom and pop medical business as a waste of time. They see it as an opportunity to make a sale towards reaching their sales quota. This should be the same mind-set we as basketball coaches and our teams possess because our biggest opponent should be the goals we set for ourselves. Are we doing all we can today to meet our goals?
Whether you are playing a fellow conference championship contender, or a team lurking around last place in your league, it’s our job to get our players and those around us to efficiently prepare to the best of our ability. Why? What if we are just so much more talented than an opponent? Unfortunately, this is a very short-sighted, losing mind-set. Sure, you may be able to beat a couple of opponents on your schedule without preparing properly, but without purpose in your preparation and play daily, you will make it much more difficult to beat the best teams on your schedule.
But how do you overcome this loss of focus during the early dog days of February? Can you really overcome what I feel is human nature? Definitely. I think the best way to do this is to first create a workman-like culture led by the staff. If the coaches bring the focus and energy to practice each day it will be easier for the players to buy in and be ready to practice. In addition, the leaders of the team need to buy in, lead by example and hold their teammates accountable. Lastly, I think coaches need to give their teams and players smaller goals within practice to help narrow the focus toward specific areas of improvement. For example, in high school, since I always guarded the opponents’ best player in a pressure half court defensive scheme, my Hall of Fame high school coach used to demand that I never allow my man to catch the ball twice in one possession throughout practice. This demand made me focus in every day and every play because if I didn’t I knew I was going to get my butt kicked and have to run suicide after suicide for not meeting his expectations. Your team’s focus may need to be different but I think setting daily goals is huge. Maybe the center of attention for your team needs to be reducing turnovers, executing ball-screen coverage or doubling down on the post. Figure out whatever your team’s short-term goals are, emphasize them, reinforce their success and teach them when they struggle and your team will improve.
I strongly believe that consistently doing what’s right leads to greatness. If you take a day off here, slop through a practice there, you won’t reach your full potential as an individual or a team. However, if coaches’ lead by example, get leaders to buy in and utilize daily goals, you and your team will consistently improve, become a person others can rely on and be a part of a team that will never lose to less talented teams while having a chance to beat the best. Bottom line is, whether you’re in sales, a basketball player, or a coach, how good do you want to be? Does your work ethic reflect those aspirations? Regardless of your next opponent, what do you expect from yourself today? Are you doing all that you can to beat the best and become the best? If you aren’t, I can guarantee you someone, somewhere is and if you face them, chances are you will lose.
Let me know what you think Coaches and as always, thanks for reading!