“The measure of intelligence is the ability to change.” ― Albert Einstein
“Those who cannot change their minds cannot change anything.” ― George Bernard Shaw
As the leaves begin to fall and the temperature begins to drop and dusk comes quicker and quicker each night, my pulse begins to race for the start of basketball season. You can smell it in the air. Everything smells a bit crisper. There's an excitement in my veins like it was when I was a child on Christmas morning. No matter what was in that wrapped present, I knew it was going to be something new. In relation to the start of basketball season, that new present is the equivalent of a new opportunity to be a better player or coach and have another opportunity to prove you're the best, if not worthy of the opportunity to earn that title.
With coaches and players beginning to anticipate that first practice, it seems like a good time to talk about hoping for the best but preparing for the worst. At the NCAA Division I and II, NAIA, and Junior College levels, workouts and practices are already underway. DIII schools are less than two weeks away and most high school seasons will start at the end of the month. One way or another, coaches are trying to figure out what they have while challenging players to be in better shape, more fundamental, and stronger mentally and physically. Players are looking to impress their coaches while worrying about making mistakes and falling behind. The older players are focused on making sure the younger players don't become obstacles along the road of the veteran's last chance at winning a championship.
It is an exciting time but a stressful time. A two-hour practice can seem to fly by in a matter of minutes with so much to teach and learn and master. Coaches are not so concerned at this point about how many jumpers are made or how many balls go flying out of bounds. They are focused on building routines and getting players in shape and teaching the muscle memory that they hope will be there when the game and season are on the line with seconds to play in late February.
When I was coaching, I lived for this time of year. It was my Christmas, Birthday, Halloween, and Easter all wrapped into one. I had spent all summer and fall working on a plan that best suited my talent, and I was always anxious to see it in play while hoping the kids were as excited about the plan as I was. With the first practice looming, I was always confident my plan was going to lead to great and significant results. A coach's confidence is never higher than right before the first practice.
BOOM!!! That's the sound of your plan in your head on Day 1 when your starting point guard blows out her ankle on the last drill of the day or when the volleyball team makes it to Nationals and you will be without your starting center (also a Volleyball player) for at least two more weeks. Or maybe, you hear that explosion in your head the day you walk into the gym and see the floor covered in water from a leaky roof the night before.
The greatest characteristic a coach can have is not intelligence or toughness or passion. It was, is, and forever will be, the ability to adapt. I can remember one season in my 16 years of coaching where the plan that was put into play on the first day of practice was followed through to the last game of the year. That season came on the heels of the hardest season of my career where everything that could have gone wrong, did.
So, as you coaches, players, parents, and fans head into the start of a new season, keep in mind that the path to a championship will have many hills and valleys...and probably a few big walls along the way. Don't ever get too caught up on your plan or line-up or rotation because you may not have the options you hoped. Prepare to go into every practice to adapt and change, and when 5 kids come to you and say, "Coach, I don't feel so good," don't be afraid to say, "PRACTICE CANCELLED," and send everybody home. As good as you are as a coach, you won't win any games with a team full of players at home in bed.
Good luck! I wish you all a great basketball season!