Winning isn’t everything. But playing to win is.
This post is sort of about sports. Sort of about UK basketball. Sort of about life.
Life mirrors sport. Or does sport mirror life?
Sometimes we need to shy away from the obsession with measuring results. Pass/Fail? What’s on the scoreboard?
Effort. Heart. Intentions. Shouldn’t these count for something?
A few years back, I coached a middle school girls basketball team that played their hearts out every game, but always had terrible trouble putting the ball in the basket. So many times they heard this phrase, “Girls we did so many things well tonight. Competed hard. Showed tremendous heart. But unfortunately, this gym has a scoreboard too. Don’t let our lack of points showing on it trick you into thinking you didn’t play well.”
Judgement in this case needed to be based on effort, not results. Don’t let results discourage you. Keep working hard.
Conversely, don’t let wins trick you into thinking your level of play is acceptable.
My wife runs marathons. I don’t run. If I challenge her to a one-mile race and she beats me by one yard, who really wins? Which one of us needs to make changes in their approach to competition? To allow me to finish close behind her, one or both of these had to happen:
1) I showed more heart than her and out-competed her. I raised up to her level.
2) She didn’t give maximum effort. Did just enough to win. She dropped to my level.
Is that acceptable? Yeah, if you’re satisfied with where you are. Not if you want to be a champion.
It’s better to lose than to consistently play poorly and win.
Losing necessitates the need for change. Winning does not.
Why the obsession with results? Measuring results. Keeping score.
Sometimes we look the other way when somebody half-way does something. Sometimes we have no reaction when somebody does something that lacks good judgement. Our reaction only comes comes when the aftermath of their actions affects us. Everything is peachy as long as results are good. But results are overrated as a measuring stick.
But what about intentions? Effort? Motivation?
So many times bad results grow from good intentions. I find myself soothing peoples’ reactions to bad results with the half-joking,
“Well, she meant well.”
But it’s true. Otherwise, we are measuring ability rather than heart.
When a friend presents a laundry list of all the things that another friend is doing wrong, do we simply agree? Or do we try to look at the heart and effort of the accused? “I know they do ____ poorly, but they are trying their best.”
The person who recognizes their faults and works to improve is more admirable than one who can “produce” more with little effort.
The UK basketball program lives under the constant microscope of fans and media. I suppose my microscopic assessments tend to irritate my fellow fans. I’m too critical. I can’t be pleased. They’re just kids, you know.
What sets me apart? Most fans watch games looking for a win. I’m just strange. I watch games with an eye for players doing things right. The amount of effort that goes into doing things the right way.
Regular season games are learning opportunities. The impact of the lesson is diminished when poor effort and execution still results in a win.
It’s better to lose than to play poorly and win. The scoreboard becomes more important in March.
This holds true as long as your goal is to make steady improvement, day after day, game after game……..in order to win when it really matters.
Last year’s Kentucky team lost 10 regular season games then made an incredible run to the NCAA finals. A highly regarded team, loaded with ultra-talented freshmen struggled throughout the season to the point of nearly missing the tournament.
Talent didn’t automatically result in wins. Performance became so bad that I quit watching for a while, but not because of losses.
As a middle school basketball coach, I’m certainly not an expert on basketball, especially at higher levels. But I do have a firm grasp on the scope of fundamental skills and basketball knowledge that are necessary for success in high school. If you can’t understand and carry out certain things, you don’t play.
Last years freshmen were the equivalent of passing a student through to high school that couldn’t read……….just because they were really good at math. We had college freshmen who were absent of things that should have been present as high school freshmen.
As long as we’re winning playing zone defense, we don’t even have to learn any of the finer points of man to man defense.
As longs as Rivals has you rated high, there’s no reason to change your mental approach to game and practice.
As long as you can dunk over everybody, there’s no reason for you to learn basic low post footwork.
You get the picture. Calipari’s team development was set back months due to the absence of fundamentals. His elite freshmen had been allowed to skip over the finer details of basketball at all earlier levels simply because they produced results.
As a team, they were just beginning to grasp and execute concepts at the beginning of tournament time that should have been taught in their middle school days.
I was mortified at what 5-star recruits had become. If we were going to get players like this every year, let’s change the model. If 5-star guys have evolved into fundamentally poor underachievers, let’s get some 3-star guys that have failed enough to learn from it. Let’s change the model.
Thankfully Cal has changed the model somewhat. Kids that were headed for the D-league have stuck around for at least another year. Cal’s fascination with winning a championship with all freshmen is a thing of the past. And this year’s freshmen class has restored my faith in incoming high profile players. These kids understand the game. They compete hard. They were properly prepared for college basketball.
In tough environments on the road, they understandably play like freshmen. It’s part of the maturing process. At home, they get complacent. They get too comfortable. They get outscored in the second half by teams that they lead by 20 at halftime. And sometimes you look up and the opponent has a 34-17 rebounding advantage against our team that’s bigger than every NBA team but one.
Cal speaks one language to the media and public that sends a constant marketing message to incoming recruits. He speaks another language to his players to make them the best they can be. And he speaks yet another language to his assistant coaches (this would be the language of brutal truth).
I often speak the language of brutal truth when it comes to UK basketball. Some people don’t like to hear it. If you only look at wins and losses, it seems to be harsh criticism of kids. But if you listen closely……and watch closely, you’ll realize that I don’t criticize guys who lay it out for their school and their teammates, every second of every game.
When talented guys do this, the score will take care of itself.
*Why the Chris Gettelfinger picture? Because if you don’t know who he is, don’t even try to argue with me.
*I have been accused of being too harsh in my criticism of the Harrison twins. Cal has brought them along quite well. They were grossly overrated coming in and expectations of them were unrealistic. But they (along with James Young) may have possessed the poorest grasp of basketball fundamentals of anyone to ever wear a UK uniform. And Andrew has the burden of playing out of position. He isn’t a point guard and will never play a game in the NBA as a point guard. His best bet for an NBA career is if his brother is drafted next year and he plays two years at 2-guard.
*If we don’t lose a game before the tournament, I think our chances of being national champs diminishes greatly.
*Lack of playing time for Hawkins and Willis has more to do with recruiting than it does with any other factors. 5-star guys in high school can’t see 5-star guys having to wait for playing time.
*For young high-profile athletes, I think there is too much hero-worshipping and butt-kissing on social media by fans and not enough honest correction and accountability by coaches and parents. They float in the clouds because we put them there. And we make excuses for them when the stumble………Jameis Winston is just a kid, you know. But his actions are most likely a result of his heart & character…….not because he’s just a kid. It’s ok to expect better.