How many of you have coached a team and had what was termed as a “big win”? Three weeks ago my team experienced exactly that. We played a team everyone assumed would be victorious against us. We prepared for this match just like any other match; we were prepared to compete. We had what we thought was a good game plan. We watched videos as a coaching staff and as a team. We were prepared, but did we expect to win? No. We were just prepared to compete. If you asked my team or coaching staff, I am sure they would have said we were as prepared as we could be. But we did not expect win. So what happened…we won in five games. The players were euphoric. We just had a big win.
The following weekend we would be playing teams that were not as good as the previous week. Surely, we would play well and continue our new-found winning ways, but we didn’t. We played two matches against two very good teams in our conference and lost both of the matches in three games. We did not compete like we expected to. It was frustrating to watch us squander what we thought was an opportunity to make our mark in the conference, and it begged the questions…Why? What happened? Was it just a fluke? Maybe the planets weren’t aligned just right. I didn’t know what the difference was in our performances, but I knew why we lost. The statistics answered those questions, but what I did not understand was why didn’t we play well?
Of course, we immediately spent time evaluating what areas we were deficient in. But that did not answer the question. It clearly had to do more with the mental side of the game rather than the physical. So I did what I always do in these situations, I called my friend, Andrea Becker, a sports psychologist, and told her the situation. As we talked and evaluated our big win and then our losses, it became apparent to her what the problem was and therefore the solution. Our expectations had changed. It was as simple as that. After our win, things changed. Now we expected to win. We all did…players, coaching staff, family, and friends.
So I return to the title of this blog…EXPECTATIONS. We all have high expectations of our players. We want to hold them to high standards, but what are the expectations? Did we expect to win? I believe that is where we made our mistake. We now expected to win, but before we only worried about three things: 1) Play with great effort for the entire match or for as long as we can. 2) Be mindful of how we play and of our game plan. 3) Play as a team. We could control those three things. We could not control winning.
So my advice is to do what Hugh McCutcheon always preached to us, “Control the controllables.” I forgot that and it cost us. I was just worrying about winning and not about the process. It was following the process that allowed us to win. I needed to believe what Bill Walsh said, “The score takes care of itself.”
When we returned to practice, we went right back to training the way we knew we should. We came into the practice gym and went back to stressing and grading our practices on our core values: effort, competitiveness, and mindfulness. What are the results of this? It is too early to tell, but practices have been intense and fun. Oh, we did have another win, but for me, now it is all about effort, competitiveness, and being mindful. I just needed to be reminded of this.