Sacrifice is a big part of a championship culture. Getting your kids to buy in to what is best for the team, rather than there own personal goals, is not an easy task. It’s something you have to define and emphasize throughout the year, and even if you do it’s still hard to navigate.
If you can get a team willing to sacrifice it can make you better in a lot of ways. Obviously a team that will play unselfish and make the right plays is harder go guard, and a team thinking about one another will be connected on the defensive end. There are significant basketball benefits.
But your teams level of sacrifice can be an important factor mentally, especially late in the year.
Season after season I’m reminded how much you have to deal with heightened emotions late in the year. Whether you are winning or losing, everything gets magnified. Everyone sees the end of the year coming – which means the end of careers for some. You might be playing for a conference title, playing for seeding, or playing for survival. If you are one of the best teams in the league you may have laser-like focus and intensity, creating a little more tension than normal. If you are one of the worst teams in the league your new emotion is desperation.
Regardless of where your team is at in the standings, there is just a different level of emotion in February and March. As a coach you have to learn to handle that emotion with your team.
For years I’ve tried to handle that emotion on an individual level, making sure to connect with each player who seemed a little bit off and figure out what was making them tick, and try and keep them level-headed. And obviously that is important. You want to have personal relationships with your guys and stay connected with them, especially if you feel they need something. But I’ve actually found it more effective to address it as a team, to talk about it openly. To acknowledge the heightened state emotion and figure out a way to deal with it as a team. Everyone is going through the same level of intensity and emotion. They can all feel it.
This is where your emphasis on sacrifice really helps. The best approach I’ve found late in the year, when everyone is on edge a bit, is to tell your players to think about their teammates. Don’t think about yourself, or what just happened to you, or what might happen if things don’t go your way. Just think about your teammates. What do your teammates need from you? Take the focus off of yourself, off of the result, and think about your teammates.
When a kid gets frustrated because he’s in foul trouble, or he’s missing some shots, ask him what his teammates need from him. If the team is upset over a loss, or guys aren’t getting the playing time they need, ask them about their teammates. It’s that time of year when the right result for the team is really the only important thing.
Managing emotions late in the season can be very tricky. It’s easy as a coach to be dismissive of it, to just say “we don’t have time for that right now, let’s go” and try and keep things moving forward. But those emotions are real. Asking your team to focus on their teammates can be an effective way to handle that emotion and stay locked in on what really matters.