“Using basketball as a vehicle for success in life” or “preparing our athletes for success on and off the court.” We often use sayings like this to describe what we do and how we envision making an impact in our athletes lives. But how do we measure success? The obvious answer and why people are attracted to sports is by measuring wins and losses at the end of the season. Of course we want to win, but do our youth teams have to win every game to be considered successful?
Win or lose, success is achievable. Contrary to popular belief, a season is not deemed good or bad based on how many trophies we have (or don’t have) on our shelves at the end of the season.
The ultimate measure of success is by performing to the best of your ability each time you step on the floor (practice included). Whether you are a heavy favorite or an underdog, your expectations going into a game should remain the same. That is our standard of excellence.
My high school coach did a great job of establishing our standards during the time I spent playing for him. We were the top team in our conference for several years and the majority of conference games were blowouts with us in favor. Most times we knew that we were going to win big but that didn’t change our standards and what was expected of us each time we took the court. First, we respected our opponents by playing hard every possession no matter what the score was, from starters to bench players. Secondly, Coach held us accountable to the specific standards of excellence that were established, usually referred to as non-negotiables (more below). Our mentality was to play a winless team the same way we would play the #1 team in the state, or vice versa. It comes down to standards staying the same no matter the opponent.
The same rings true for a loss. If we played to our level of excellence and the team beat us we accepted the loss with humility and respect for the opponent and moved on. Win or lose, we knew what a successful team effort looked like. We could be playing the Los Angeles Lakers and my expectations for our players to compete would remain the same. A great (more realistic) analogy for 14 and under basketball takes place during warm ups. Whether the team is dunking pregame or a lot bigger than us, that does not change the objective of us going into the game and executing our non-negotiables. Nothing changes and nothing more is expected out of our team other than playing to our standard of excellence.
Frustrations start to mount when, win OR lose, we don’t play to our standards. It is possible to win and get worse when you don’t have a standard of excellence. We would rather have a game where we lose by 5, 10, 20+, and live up to those standards, than win a game by a large margin and get away with things that we wouldn't be able to get away with against good teams (I say by a large margin because a team without a standard of excellence will rarely win close games).
Refer to a later article on Toughness.*
Executing our non-negotiables and having a successful game:
None of these have to do with scoring, rebounding, making passes, or executing plays. All are controllable for every player, no matter their skill level. But when these things start to add up and are consistently executed, winning often takes care of itself. These same character traits apply to everything you do in life, hence us using basketball as a vehicle for success in life.
* Most concepts we refer to can be associated with a player's toughness. To be able to execute each of the above bullets the article on Toughness is a really good prelude for executing these principles. Ultimately, for a team to be successful, they need to be tough.