Columns & Blogs

A coach's motivational mistake

Well, I thought I had seen everything at a high school basketball game, but I guess not. But now, maybe I have.

My son's junior varsity team was trailing 14-0 before anyone had time to break a sweat. The starters' brand of street ball on offense and a lack of defense fueled the onslaught. The coach quickly yanked all five starters and sent in five rarely used subs who scrapped and fought, and although they didn't score much and still gave up points, they did so using basic fundamentals that avoided an even wider scoring gap.

Halftime finally came and the team was trailing 30-2, after scoring on two foul shots late in the second quarter. It was an old-fashioned whipping that came as a result of poor coaching, poor play and some poor luck.

The coach had no answer to break the press and no play designed against the 3-2 zone. The players were dribbling into traps instead of passing to beat them, throwing chest passes instead of bounce passes, and hoisting shots that had no prayer. And last but not least, the team missed more layups and foul shots in one half than it had all season.

As a coach in this case, I would sprint the team and myself to the locker room to take advantage of every minute of halftime to try to fix the problems we encountered in the first half. I'd have a new play to break the press and I'd want the players resting in order to be able to give 100 percent when they started the second half.

Not this coach. Instead, his team, including the players who subbed in and ran themselves ragged to keep the game as close as it was, were asked to run sprints for the first four minutes of halftime.

This would be degrading enough in any situation, but the fact that it was in an opponent's gymnasium made it even more embarrassing. The taunts from the home crowd made a bad situation even worse. One frustrated player actually said something to a fan, which almost erupted into an ugly situation. Even the team's own cheerleaders giggled in the corner. Meanwhile, the coach just sat and watched.

I don't know what was said in the locker room when they finally went in, but whatever it was, it didn't help. While the score got a little bit closer, primarily because the coach played the kids who were fundamentally sound, the final margin was more than 30 points.

My son was not happy after the game. I assumed it was because of the loss, and it was part of the reason. But he was even more upset that the team had to run at the half, primarily because of the poor play of a select few kids. Even he said halftime could have been much better spent figuring out how to fix the problems.

I couldn't have agreed with him more. And my response to him -- as it always is when he disagrees with a coaching decision and I agree with him -- was simple: "Just remember that if you ever become a coach."

There might not have been any easy answers to fix the problems in the game, but one answer that certainly didn't help was embarrassing the players in front of a crowd.