I found the Xavier vs Cincinnati incident very disturbing but not so much because of the fight itself. What disturbed me the most was how this fight started and how it was commented on and treated afterwards by some involved.
This was not a fight borne out of heat-of-battle conflict, it was not a case of a fight emerging from physical contact occuring during the course of a play. It was pre-calculated and easy to see coming. This was a fight along the lines of the 1972 Ohio State vs Minnesota brawl instigated on a pre-mediatated cheap shot by Corky Taylor during a dead-ball.
The fight merely served to shine a glaring light on the real issues that need to be dealt with. The real issue is the actions by those charged with leading college athletics are not always living up to their stated goals and words, leaving players ill equipped to deal with pressures and expectations of being the faces and talent of college athletics. A college athletics landscape that has moved beyond being about spirited competition and school pride to being a high revenue sports entertainment empire. This belief is evidenced by the following points:
- This is Tu Holloway’s fourth in year in the Xavier basketball program and Mark Lyon’s third. It is sad that during this period at Xavier they have learned so well the many life skills that NCAA and college administrators and coaches espouse that some 20 to 30 minutes after an embarassing incident, after they have had the opportunity to calm down, be talked to by their coaches, teamates and administrators they emerge to a press conference and talk about this being what you get, about being disrespected and zipping people up. Those comments reveal a total lack of perspective and remorse. Those comments prove what Mick Cronin spoke so eloquently about during his post-game press conference a lack of appreciation and gratitude for the opportunity they are provided. It also speaks to a disturbing sense of entitlement very well written about in this blog post by Mike Procopio http://www.hoopconsultants.com/2011/12/my-thoughts-on-ate-xavier-cincinnati-brawl/
The cause of the fight is equally disturbing and has many culpable parties but here a few thought particularly disappointed me.
- Lyons and Holloway running their mouths to the Cincinnati sideline throughout the game without intervention by Xavier coaches and the game officials.
- Xaviers starters still be on the floor with the game decided, emotions high and running their mouths. Come on Coach Mack don’t tell me you were oblivious to the fact your players were trying to show up the other team and that it was getting potential explosive.
- The adminstrators of college athletics at these universities and conferences for their decisions on the suspensions after the fact. In my opinion the announced punishments feed into the belief that revenue sports are more important than the mission and integrity of the college and do very little to teach a meaningful lesson to any involved. However, it does remind us that protecting the future revenue streams by maintaining top basketball talent on the floor is very important to the colleges and conferences.
What I believe needs to be done long-term would need more space than this blog but I believe it starts with meeting the daily defining moments as outlined in this earlier blog post https://1010sport.com/2011/11/09/defining-moment/ .
A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to hear Dena Evans from Point Guard College speak at a clinic on developing S.C.H.A.P.E. leaders (unsolicited plug this is a dynamite program). Dena shared during her talk the importance of leaders offering reminders to those on there team. I am not going to try and replicate her talk but a line resonated with me related to my coaching; “Reminders are only useful before they are needed – afterwards it’s complaining”
This statement got me to thinking about how much of what we say as coaches could fall under a category I call ‘true but useless’; meaning the statement may be true but it provides no immediate benefit or help to the recipient.
Below is a sampling of some common things that I hear, and have yelled myself, to players during a game. Upon reflection I wonder if there is any benefit to players in hearing these things or are they simply ‘true but useless’ statements to my players. You decide is there anything about the statements below that provide timely, actionable information to players that will help them take the next best action in a game. You see the players already realize they made a mistake so if what you are yelling is merely pointing out to them something they already know it probably is ‘true but useless’ and serves as a distraction rather than an aide to keep players focused on making the next best action.
“Don’t turn it over”
“Take care of the ball”
“Don’t go there”
“Throw a good pass”
“Rebound” – Usually screamed after the other team has gotten an offensive rebound
The examples above serve as a reminder to me to constantly evaluate what it is I am communicating to players. Is it helpful? Is it the right time? Does it improve the players chance to take the next best action? If the answer to those questions is no than that piece of coaching is probably ‘true but useless’.
Coaches talk a great deal of the importance of buy-in by players. But how is the accomplished? What is needed to lead so that others will follow? People and players don’t follow titles very far, so merely being a coach doesn’t ensure players will adhere to your demands.
I believe a big part of this is clearly communicating your goals and expectations for the team and its members. However, an equally big component is providing the players with the opportunity to indivdually share their goals and expectations with you. This only occurs if you start a dialogue as a coach. If you are willing to actually listen and not lecture during this time you will have a much better understanding of the individual player and a great foundation to operate from in helping them adjust into their role on the team.
There are many benefits to this dialogue such as:,
- Players feel heard and validated
- Players have ‘aha’ learning moments when they are talking through these questions as to their role on the team
- You can start to manage out of synch expectations between yourself and a player much earlier and at a time before anger and resentment have started to build up.
- You can discover better ways to communicate with the player as you will have a greater understanding of their motivations and what makes them tick if you listen well.
Below are examples of questions you can use at the start of seasons to initiate dialogue with players to develop the trust and relationship that can thrive during the adversity of a season:
- What are your expectations for being on this team? Playing time? Role on team? Shot attempts? Type of shot attempts?
Would you be able to stay positive in words, actions, and effort if these expectations did not get met?
- What would you say are your strengths as a player? Are there any others on the team stronger than you in these areas?
- What are areas of your game that you feel you struggle in?
- What are your goals for playing on this team? Personally? For the Team?
- How would you describe good leadership?
- What do you think makes a good teammate?
The benefits of sincere dialogue intiated and continued throughout a season by questions and listening will pay benefits for the life of a player coach relationship and definately provide a coach and their team their best opportunity to respond to adversity in a positive manner.