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When your team always loses

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The headlines in my area are about embattled Chicago Bulls coach Vinny Del Negro and embattled Chicago Bears coach Lovie Smith, whose tenures might be growing ever shorter because their troubled teams appear to be getting worse by the day. Given my experience so far with my basketball team, I feel their desperation.

No, the Alsip (Ill.) Park District does not have a general manager ready to pull the trigger on me, nor have I appeared on the back of a local tabloid newspaper with someone yelling I have to go, nor has been registered. Yet.

But like Del Negro and Smith, I am dealing with a team that is circling down the dirty toilet drain of losing.

I have coached teams that have lost more than they won — a lot more. But I have never coached a team that seemed so dispirited about it, and I’m not sure what to do. Sure, fifth- and sixth-grade coed basketball is not the NBA. I’ve got a lot of kids who have never played organized basketball before, and what I’m afraid of is the losing is sapping any love they might develop for the game. Their body language, increasingly, seems to give that message.

I’ve tried to make the point that the scoreboard doesn’t matter. I’ve tried to make the point that if they play as hard as they’re capable of, if they are good teammates, if they hustle, the scoreboard will take care of itself. But I can see the body language of my team when we start another game down 6-0 or 8-0 in the blink of an eye. For a few games, the kids worked hard to come back, and lost by only a basket. Now, five games in, they don’t have that same spunk to come back, and the losing only gets worse.   On Saturday, we lost to a team by 15 that we had previously only lost to by 2.

Vinny Del Negro and Lovie Smith know what I’m talking about.

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We’re the perfect lodger, the perfect guest.

I don’t mean to keep the focus on winning and losing. But what’s happening is because of their reaction to losing, I feel like I’m failing in my goal — making every kid on that team a better basketball player. I’ve tried cajoling. I’ve tried pushing. I’ve tried being angry. I’ve tried being nice. I’ve tried letting them know how much I care. I’ve tried letting them know how good I think they are and can be. I’ve tried to make it fun. I’ve tried not saying anything. But nothing works to get them motivated to keep their heads up and not feel the strain of losing.

One big difference between myself and Vinny Del Negro is that on my level, it’s not assumed that players are supposed to care about their basketball development. I have a lot of kids for whom this year might be their only year.

I hate to draw big parallels between basketball and this game we call life, but that might be last straw to get them to at least feel better about themselves and give the game, and themselves, a sporting chance. What I want them to know is that no matter what the scoreboard says, they are not losers. Not to me. And that there is a valuable lesson to be learned through this.

When faced with a losing streak — whether it’s in school, with your personal life or in basketball — you have two choices. You can fight, or you can give up. Often, the instinct is to give up, because fighting is too hard. You might still lose. But only one decision GUARANTEES you’ll lose — and that decision is giving up. Sometimes the decision you make to fight something now doesn’t result in winning now — but fight enough, and you will win.

Am I crazy for wanting to tell them this? I just want to make sure they enjoy the rest of the season, and come back for another one.

Then again, if the issue is that a lot of them, in the end, just don’t care that much about basketball, then there’s not a whole lot I can do about that. As a youth coach, the guilty feeling you always have is that you’re the reason they don’t care.

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Not what you want as the official post-practice song.

Written by rkcookjr

December 13, 2009 at 11:34 pm