We had a really good practice on Monday. We got hit with a pretty bad wind and rain storm overnight on Sunday here in Maine, and most of the area lost power on Monday morning. Our school lost power for two days, so the kids got a four day weekend.
On Monday, we practiced in a half-lit gym that just had some emergency lights on. Practice started a little slow, but about 30 minutes in we brought the group together and talked about how what we were doing wasn’t good enough. We needed to compete harder. Our guys were split up into two teams with different assistant coaches running each group. I’ve got a great staff, and they were able to get the message across to the guys. We needed to bring it. It wasn’t good enough. Our coaches brought a lot of energy to the practice, and our kids responded well. By the end of practice, with the sun gone outside, no air in moving in the gym and barely enough light, we were competing with a great edge. It felt like we were in one of those old boxing gyms in Philadelphia somewhere, with no amenities but the tools of the trade. It was a really good practice.
I felt good about the practice and how we responded, but the more I thought about it I knew something had to change. I don’t think that model is sustainable over time. If our kids are waiting for the coaches to get on them, to get loud, to demand what’s necessary, to have a good practice, how is that going to translate when we play Boston College? As coaches, we have very little control of the edge in a game. We can’t stop the play and make them do it again because it wasn’t good enough. We can’t put them on the line if they didn’t run back on defense. We can’t stop everything and bring them into the locker room to show it to them on film. We hardly have any control once a game starts. Our goal is to train them properly so that in a game it comes naturally to them. But it has to come from them.
On Tuesday we watched film before practice and then talked about it as a team. I told our guys that they had to be responsible for the competitive edge. They couldn’t rely on someone else to do it for them. I told them that the coaches were not going to provide the emotion, the competitive edge. I told the coaches I wanted them to simply coach – instruct, appreciate, correct – coach the guys on everything they do on the floor. But not to motivate. Not to get them hyped up and coach how hard they play. The players had to bring the edge.
We didn’t have a great practice on Tuesday. First of all, it was quiet. Everyone noticed that. There just wasn’t the same volume. We were coaching our guys – and over and over coaches would say “who’s communicating in here?” or “where’s the energy coming from?” but not much changed. Our guys had become so used to the coaches providing that energy, and they would feed off of it. But when the coaches didn’t bring it, there was a void. And no one stepped into it.
We spoke about it at different times throughout the practice, as well as afterwards. Next Friday, when we go play Boston College, the competitive edge can’t come from the coaches. It has to come from the them. When something goes wrong on the floor, when BC goes on a 6-0 run and we need to dig deep and get a stop, that message, that energy, has to come from within the huddle that takes place on the floor. The coaches on the sideline dressed in suits? We really can’t do much about it at that point.
Phil Jackson used to have “silent” days with the Chicago Bulls, where he wouldn’t allow anyone to talk. No one spoke during practice. And it showed the players how important it was to communicate. And how much energy came from that communication. When you take away the energy in your practice that is provided by the coaches, how much is left? How loud is it?
It’s not a bad thing that your team can respond to the energy of the coaches. But that is a compliant team. They do what they are told, and when they are told to do it harder or faster they try and do it harder or faster. I don’t think compliant teams win big or win consistently. Because during games, that communication and message from the coaches is completely different. There is less control. You want your team to take ownership. When they step on the floor for a game it is theirs – We play hard because this is who we are. We play hard for one another.
On Wednesday we had an excellent practice. We spoke about the last two days, watched some film and I told them before lift that they were responsible for the energy in the gym. We were going to be there to coach them and fill in the gaps when maybe things got a little stale, but they had to bring it. They had to rely on one another to find that edge. As soon as they walked into practice from the weight room, the energy was there. You could feel it. All we really had to do was appreciate it and coach the game.
A compliant team can be a little bit of fool’s gold. If they respond well to the energy you bring to practice every day, but they don’t always have that same edge in games, they might be relying on you too much. The energy, the edge that you need to get better every day has to come from inside the team. They have to provide it and take ownership of it. If they don’t, there are going to be games where you are trying to pull it out of them as a coach and it’s just not there.