In my first game as a varsity assistant, I sat next to our new head coach Matt Hixenbaugh during the JV game, and we tossed around ideas of what we should tell the team pre-game. I suggested asking the question “why are we here?”
As we brought the team together for pre-game we looked around and posed the question, “why are we here?” The players faces went blank, as I expected they would. A couple of players reluctantly offered because we had a game. Hix let the thought hang in the air for a moment, and snapped, “We are here to win!”
Over my career, I have refined this to “Why will we win?” This question permeates my thinking from the start of team selection through the final whistle of our final game. Answering this question, and having my players believe it is my responsibility and purpose as a coach.
As anyone who follows me on twitter @brian_pink can attest I have become quite obsessed with sports psychologist Dan Abrahams (@danambrahams77). This is a product of my continued learning of my craft and the circumstances of my present position at Winter Springs. For several years, Winter Springs had great success at the varsity level under Travis Jones, but when he resigned and several college level players graduated, the program tumbled to 7-19 at the varsity level, and won only 13 games combined at all three levels. We undoubtedly entered a losing culture.
I have conciously tried to attack the mindset first to improve the self-image of the players. I believe a team’s mentality can be molded, and this is more important to winning than any tactical system I could implement. I have made sparing reference to past failure, generally it is mentioned quickly when the team is unfocused or seemingly full of itself, and not dwelled upon. I have not asked much about what was done or not done in the past because it is irrelavent to what we are doing now.
I genuinely believe my players can win, and remind them of that on a daily basis. I have kept our tactics and game plans simple, and made no secret of it. We press, we play a few zones, we play man, we have a press breaker, a few man offenses and a few zone offenses. On the whole I have spent more time talking about the 6 Battles that Win the War than tactical nuance.
The 6 Battles that Win the War is our blueprint to accountability. Each of them is something that we can control regardless of our opponent, and ensure victory if we control them. Winning must be taught as simple steps to success. It is not fancy, abstract or mystical, it is doing the things that matter, better and more consistently than the other team.
One of my most satisfying moments in coaching game during a break between games at a team camp at Stetson University in the summer of 2003. We had our core group together for three years at that point, but were enduring a bit of a crisis as our best player was transfering to a loaded Edgewater team, coached by the aforementioned Travis Jones. We had invested a lot in Omar Qazi as our best player, but needed to accept his departure and move on. I had the team at the Stetson camp and we were playing well without him, but we had just lost a tough game. I was sitting in the bleachers three rows in front of the players, who were talking about the game. I didn’t say a word, just listened. The conversation was identical to what Hix and I would have been discussing on our own. The players had truly grasped everything that we had intsilled in them over three years. I knew in that moment that we would be fine without Omar. Our winning culture was in place. We went 24-5, won our district and lost a heartbreaker to the eventual state champion in regional play.
As my current players experienced this week, losing happens. Losing is a great learning tool, but must be handled in the same simple step manner that you teach winning. Losses must be defined as what your team did or didn’t do, not the opponent. You don’t have a chance to change the opponent only yourself. You should evaluate the loss in the context of your team’s simple steps to winning, and avoid singling out individuals for blame and emphasize the collective need to come together to improve.
Keeping this in context allows your players to attain collective accountability, and learn Why We Will Win!