Over the weekend, I was in Kansas City, coaching the 16u & 17u with two of my closest friends at the Under Armour Association Spring finals. We went on to win both championships, pushing the 17's to 8-0 and the 16's to 7-1 during the April live period. Over the course of the spring, both of these teams have grown immensely. During this time, the 16's really found their way and their identity.
Each game Mike, Bill and myself have coached with the sophomores (the 16's) we've learned something new about them. It took guts to win this past weekend, and I'm not sure anyone outside the program expected us to. But, the thing that really has stood out to me is their resilience... and it's a great life lesson. We've been down by double digits in multiple games and have come back to win. One game early in the season in particular was just about out of our reach, but we kept to it, kept grinding and found a way to come out on top. Sometimes, you need the ball to bounce the right way and get a little lucky, but now I'm noticing in real time two lessons that I've encountered in the past - fortune favors the bold and winning habits win games. I've said it before, being challenged is so good for you. It's a check to see if you can fight for what you want when the chips are down. It tests you to see if you can stay the course and be poised and keep grinding when the outcome looks bleak. Growing up, my mother always told me there are people who are just more talented than me out there, stronger, smarter and more gifted, so I'd just have to work harder. I'd have to fight for what I want and find a way to win - in games and in life. Battling when things are going against you teaches you resilience, and experience is the best teacher.
We're not particularly easy on our guys and there's a standard for them to live up to. The bar is high and so are the expectations and if you're not meeting them, you're going to hear about it and sit next to the coaches... and it's next man up. But the resilience in this team, I believe, really stems from their small habits. They want to win, but man, when we go at them about their mistakes, they're all ears and their body language rarely indicates when we've hit a nerve. They take criticism and critiques in stride, and that's hard to do. But most notably, in the big moments, they're locked in - they maintain eye contact, they listen to solutions and they say "yes, coach" in response. Then, they go out and do what we ask as hard as they can. It's not perfect and it's not easy, but that's why this team wins. They do what's difficult. It's hard to hear that you're playing soft and need to be more aggressive. It's hard to hear you're lacking attention to detail and you need to be more focused in high pressure situations. It's hard to hear that you're coming up short of our very high expectations. But, they understand it's bigger than them as individuals and when their personal feelings get in the way of the team, it can hinder success. They're tough, they're together and they have a thirst for improving at every juncture...and individual agendas are never put over the greater good of the entire team, which leaves the door to success wide open.
Some years ago, I watched a Kevin Hart stand up on Netflix, and he had a quote that he said before he took the stage - "everybody wants to be famous, nobody wants to do the work". It applies to stand up comedy, as it applies to life, as it applies to basketball. Everybody wants to win, but do you want to do what's required to win? Do you want to embrace what's difficult? Can you listen to your coach point out your mistakes, own them and go remedy them? Just showing up is not enough. You've got to be able to listen when you get chewed out and respond with "yes, coach". You have to maintain eye contact and go out and do what your coach asks as hard as you can. You've got to be a great teammate when things aren't going great for you personally -whether that's mistakes on D, missed shots or little playing time. You have to be engaged and positive and have a thirst for improvement. You have to be ready when your number is called and you have to be a great teammate if it isn't. Embracing the journey, being resilient through the bumps and bruises, and the made shots and wins alike, are winning habits. But, it's so much bigger than games. This team produces and the players have grown as people because they're tough minded, they're together and apply their habits to the game. They have fun, they listen and they play hard. This 16u team has winning habits. And that's why they're champions. And it's also why they're not satisfied.