Monday, 28 March 2016

I Heart March Madness

It is extremely hard to not talk about March Madness in this entry due to all of the excitement and amazing tournament going on right now.  What makes NCAA March Madness college basketball so fun to watch?  So many things! Where to start? 

1. Passion 
Since the games are a one and done format every team has a chance to win from when the ball is tipped off.  In other playoff formats it is a series of multiple games that decides a winner.  It is so exciting to watch two teams battle it out because anyone can beat a team in a one game format.  All you have to do is just have a really great game and control the tempo that favours your team.  You can also see the passion and school pride that comes with winning or just being invited to the tournament for that matter.  People really rally behind their teams and get so excited to watch them play.  The fanfare of March Madness is extremely contagious.  Athletes train their whole lives to be a part of it so the pressure and expectation can be incredibly high.  Buzzer beaters are pretty incredible too.  

2. Upsets 
When a 15 seed takes down a 2 seed fans get excited. This is exactly what happened when Michigan State was upset this year by Middle Tennessee. This among other upset broke a lot of brackets.  Even the most seasoned fans can’t determine what will happen during the tournament this is what makes March Madness so exciting for anyone.  Average fans really love underdog stories.  This year in particular has been fun because out of the Final Four teams only one of them, North Carolina, is a number one seed.  Both Villanova and Oklahoma are two seeds.  Syracuse is the last team to round out the Final Four and they started out as a tenth seed.     

3. Underdogs 
The most unlikely story of them all is Syracuse which have crawled back from a self-imposed ban which meant they didn’t participate in 2015’s tournament due to some issues with player eligibility.  Now Syracuse rallied back and beat Virginia to squeeze into the Final Four. I can’t wait to see what happens next!

4. Team Play 
Many people who are NBA fans often complain that they don’t know the personnel there are too many teams to remember and this is what makes it challenging to keep up with.  The reason I disagree is that the media likes to make NBA match-ups about individual stars going against one another. March Madness isn't necessarily like that because it is about the teams going against each other.  In these game is it coach versus coach and team versus team. I love watching the tactics and strategy that go into pulling off upsets or solidifying victories.  It is very fun and extremely intriguing.  This is my favourite time of the year.  

Happy March Madness! Enjoy The Show!    

Friday, 25 March 2016

My Experience & Experiences

I don’t think there is a single person that walks through life that isn’t judged by others to some degree.  Good or bad we all have stereotyped both consciously and subconsciously.  I often think about how many judgments are made to make easier decisions about people we encounter.  Rather than having to get to know people intimately on a one-on-one basis our brains make quick work by categorizing which often involves stereotyping.  This is a simplified concept many of us use without thinking about it and is a shortcut the mind undertakes to not over analyze.  I fully recognize I am guilty of this myself.  It is an evolutionary process passed down over time in order to optimize survival and minimize decision making time. 

Where this is dangerous is when you encounter people that don’t fit into certain categories and we don’t take the time to get to know what they are about.  It is a tough place to be when I happen to be that person who encounters this over and over again.  Never feeling like quite part of the group but also feeling as though I have earned my way in even when others may not see it that way.  That is until they decide to take the time to consider.  

Part of being a person that provokes change requires taking a stand and in many instances this means being alone.  Being brave enough to stand on your own is probably one of the hardest things to learn but anyone that knows the power of standing up to a bully knows what that feels like to challenge what is considered normal or even acceptable.  Over the last couple of days I have been thinking about how these judgements others have projected can cause dark spots in my life.  It is these dark spots that light dims and I don’t want my light to dim one piece at a time. Instead I want to choose to shine bright even if people take rounds out of me one small incident at a time.  I don’t want to give power to these dark spots anymore by keeping them hidden from the light.  

For the last 15 years I have witnessed many refs who walk right passed me to shake the hand of my Assistant Coach because they assume incorrectly that he must be the one in charge.  All of my Assistant Coaches over the years, out of necessity, have resorted to telling them directly that I am the Head Coach. Sometimes they make a joke about how they are just my bodyguard or pre-emptively heading them off at the pass to send them my way before the mistake is made yet again. It isn’t the worst thing in the world by any stretch but gets predictable after a while.  It also gets incredibly tiring to be continually underestimated over and over again.  
Then there are officials that might approach me after a game to make comments about something my player did or a way I decided to have my team play the game where they accuse me of being “inexperienced”.  The comments being “I know you are new to this but…” or “a more experienced coach would…” As any coach knows you sometimes tell a player to do something and they might do it differently than was explained so these become moments for further teaching but it isn’t always a reflection on what they were initially told.  It also isn’t always as clear as someone thinks they see on the outside but this is my team so I get to decide. Maybe my experience has taught me to make an adjustment for my team that is different than something they would choose to do.  The perceived lack of experience has nothing to do with that difference. It is the fact that we are different people and don’t see it the same way. 

Then there are new players that when I coach them they say something like “Thank you Miss” or “Okay Miss.”  To some it might see like this is being polite but to me it is extremely diminishing.  I am not a teacher at school if you call all of the other men in the room “Coach” why am I relegated to a “Miss”? I am still a coach and I might be your first female coach you have worked with but I am a coach none-the-less I deserve the same treatment as all of the other men in the room. When you apply those same comments to a man in that situation “Thank you Mister” or “Okay Sir” it sounds completely ridiculous. I know I won’t put up with that.    

There have been the times I have been attending high level tryouts with the National Team to learn new drills and further my knowledge to become a better coach.  Sometimes I like just being in a gym to learn and observe.  I love just being around basketball.  This particular time I was sitting out of the way on the sideline and taking notes to get everything I could out of the experience when a coach I hadn’t met came up to me and asked me “who do you belong to?” pointing to the other coaches.  I was caught off guard a bit so I said I didn’t know what he meant.  He explained he wanted to know who’s girlfriend or wife I was.  Clearly, he thought I couldn't possibly be there for myself. It was a real head shaker. There are so many things wrong with that statement. I handled it diplomatically and explained I was a coach and was there to learn.  I still think about that situation sometimes and it bothers me.   

It’s these situations and small moments that can grind me down after a while. The little ways that show me that I don’t quite belong according to others. It’s getting coaching clothes that are way too big because I have to settle for what is left over.  My Dad, uncles and boyfriends have been well outfitted over the years with my coaching clothes because they were too big so I passed them on.  It’s when I was sent up to sit with the parents because the person working the registration desk thought I was a parent even though I told him I was a coach.  It is having people shake every other coach’s hand in the gym but conveniently misses mine before walking right passed me to leave the gym. 

I could go on with other stories but they all take the same line of repetitive thinking. Luckily I have always believed in the importance of marching to the beat of my  own drum when it comes to thinking my own thoughts as well as making a life I can call your own.  I just don’t believe in living my life by settling into what is expected of me.   

I rely sometimes on other women in my life that are leaders in male dominated fields and when I share some of my experiences with them they say the same thing which is “if you don’t go through this stuff who will?”  They know it is a process of breaking down boundaries and I have just the resilient mentality to get that done.  I know I don’t deserve this treatment but I also know this is part of being the change you want to see in the world.  

I can tell you one thing for sure if I was a weak woman I would have quit a long time ago.  If it wasn’t for my players and the strides I see them making I would have quit a long time ago.  If it wasn’t for the support of my colleagues that show me on a regular basis how powerful I am with them beside me I would have quit a long time ago.  If it weren’t for the parents of the players that see what I am trying to achieve with their children I would have quit a long time ago.  Sometimes the struggle just isn’t worth it but then other times it totally is.  I love coaching and it is the best thing about my life.  It is the place where I have the most passion, joy and happiness.  I want to be the example people see to make their lives better.  I want to inspire them to give their best effort when it hurts or when they feel like they don’t know how to keep going.  I want the players I encounter to know their life is valuable and worth living even when it is hard as well as painful to push themselves to a new level they didn’t know was possible for themselves.  So, in real life when things get hard they know exactly what to do to get through it.  Anyone who knows me as a coach knows it isn't about just the game for me it is about making great people, students and players.    

These are the moments when light shines and this is the moment when it all makes sense. So that my players shift and think differently about those they encounter in the future and that is how I know I have done a good job.  These are the reasons I rise above.  

Sunday, 13 March 2016

Valuable Things Should Be Earned

The great things in life don’t come easy and they really shouldn’t.  There are some goals that are set that are tough to reach and they are tough for a reason.  Obstacles can often be put in place to keep other people from achieving your goal, not just you.  Sacrifices big and small need to be made in order to reach the places you strive to reach especially when it comes to the goals that are most important to you.  If you give up on them easily then maybe they weren’t as important to you as originally anticipated.  

Through years of practice and hard work we are told that goals can be achieved.  Sometimes as coaches we work with players they act as though they have already achieved the heights they are looking to reach without putting in the work.  They don’t hustle as hard as they could, they get lost in the details and they forget to ask questions to learn more or clarify.  These players walk into the gym complacent and uninspired.  There is more to it than just simply putting in time.  Inmates in prison put in time. There is a rule that talks about the learning process taking 10,000 hours to become an expert.  Simply collecting the 10,000 hours just to do it isn’t enough though.  You have to find ways to stand out, be different and really own it.  

Part of the process of achieving goals involves periods of struggle and discomfort.  This might mean going through times when you may be putting in work and you aren’t quite sure if all you are doing is really going to pay off in the end.  It is learning to dig deep and find a way to make results.   You see there are prices to pay for doing what you are passionate about and not giving up.  Those prices come in the form of uncertainty and often without a solid concrete path to follow at every single turn.  The struggle is what provides the strength so when you are in that position you can stay there. This also helps in the process of wherever you end up as well.   Sometimes it is about trusting the process and not having everything handed over easily.    

Other times it is about outright failure and picking yourself up to find the lesson which will help you on the next phase of the journey.  For the most high profile teams sometimes every member of the team has been cut at one point before actually making it.  Sometimes you see that happen with teams where they fail one year to get to the championship and then use that as motivation to get there the next year.  

When I face things that are challenging, difficult or downright painful I always try to remind myself that if it were easy everyone would do it. There is nothing easy about putting yourself out there or grinding it out every single day in order to get better.  But, the proof of success is in habits as well as in the results. To put it all into your goals and see what comes of it.  I love the quote by Seneca which sums this up perfectly “Luck is what happens when preparation meets opportunity.”

Whenever it takes a long time to achieve something you really want you cherish it way more anyways. 

Sunday, 6 March 2016

That’s What the Buzzer is For

I am a firm believer in playing all the way until the buzzer sounds. I always have been.   I don’t understand where this “mercy” rule concept came in that if you are up by a certain amount of points you have to pass the ball around at half until time runs out.  I find this condescending and disrespectful to the game of basketball as well as to the opponent we are playing against.

It seems I feel the opposite about this than some of my peers do since after being up by 35 points at the end of the game the coach called me “unclassy” for having my team play all the way to the buzzer.  I should mention that last year in a game against the very same team they came all the way back from 25 points down to win the game.  After winning they were banging their drums and noisemakers all the way down the hallway in celebration of their victorious comeback.  My team didn’t say anything about that.  We took the loss and used it as motivation to get better.  Due to past circumstances we weren’t going to let up this time.

Regardless of the outcome of this particular game where I come from you play all the way to the end whether it is the final buzzer itself or the sound of the referee’s whistle.  This is because playing your best isn’t like a switch that you turn on and off with any amount of accuracy.  In my opinion, there is only one way to get consistency and that is by playing at that same tempo repeatedly regardless of who your opponent is.  It could be in the championship game or in a scrimmage at practice.  Every time you step on the court and you are in a competitive situation the goal is to win and to play at a consistent pace.  

Of course there are some unwritten rules that I fully support when it comes to playing in games with a wide point spread.  For example, don’t press when you are up by more than 20 points.  Don’t keep your star players on the whole game just to run up the score. Make extra passes or work on some new systems in order to get better.  Of course, there is no need to humiliate or embarrass an opponent.  To me just passing around the ball at half for the last couple minutes of the game is humiliating.  I know I hate it when teams do that to us!  I would rather that we continue to play all the way to the end of the game so that my team has a chance to continue to improve.  There is a big difference between playing to win and playing not to lose.  We are also showing your team we don’t take you lightly and that we respect the game of basketball.  To me it is far more respectful to play hard than to do monkey in the middle with my players at half.

Upon reflecting on the comments this coach made to me I got thinking about the players I had in the game at that point.  Three of the players were people that don’t get a lot of minutes on my team. How am I going to tell them at the end of the game when they finally get their chance to play to just pass it around at half?  The truth is I am not.  This is what we do when we have a lead and we are using the clock.  I am not interrupting their chance to learn, get better and to play in the high tempo conditions that have been set for them.  I want them to have the opportunity to play in a real game not just keep away.  

I realize that some teams might get upset with this but this is a sporting event after all.  I’m not running for Miss Congeniality if I am considered “unclassy” for this then I'll own it.  The point of sport is competition and fighting back let's not get too polite about it.  Also, when do you constitute it is appropriate to apply this mercy rule because there are some teams that give up in the first couple minutes of the game.  Does that mean that I have to pass the ball around at half every possession until the shot clock runs out and then go play defence?  

I may be considered  “unclassy” but my intentions are in the right place and that is to set my team up for success the best way I know how to. I want my opponents to know we gave our best to also help them to get better. Plus, we have scheduled a game, fans took time to get there and are in the midst of playing so then the game should be played at the highest level all the way to the end.  Plus, some tournaments have point differentials playing into the standings to determine who moves on and who doesn’t I want to use every opportunity to get my team an advantage.  The last thing I want to do is to end up missing out on something like a gold medal game due to a 2 point point differential because I am trying to not hurt another team’s feelings.  

Play all the way to the end that is what the buzzer is for.