The game within the game
Updated: Dec 21, 2021
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I was really struggling with what I should focus on for my first blog. It wasn’t that I had a shortage of ideas, it was more of which one to use first. As a “Recovering Worrier” I tend to overthink things. But the more I thought about it the more obvious it became to me. Coaching would be the focus. Because this journey for me is all about coaching and making a positive impact on people's lives.
I feel like I have been coaching all of my adult life.
Whether it was mentoring, listening to a problem or giving advice, I’ve always loved making a difference. But when I look back at when I first started coaching it puts a huge smile on my face. Now this wasn’t a life coaching position per se, but in hindsight it was a foreshadowing moment of things to come.
I have always loved basketball. It was an area of my life where I felt I had control. I felt confident and with my creativity and imagination on the court I felt free. Unfortunately for me anxiety made it nearly impossible for me to play on teams. Instead of feeling free and creative I felt trapped and scared to perform for fear of being judged and ridiculed for every mistake. So I embraced my love for basketball in a controlled environment by playing with friends and family. I knew that there wasn't a coach to scream at me if I missed a shot or force me to be a player that I wasn't. It was only about fun, feeling free and in control. Then reality hit me. I got older, overweight and developed bad knees. It was a hell of a punch! I stopped playing basketball within a group about 10 years ago, but at the same time I found a new love in playing with and teaching my kids basketball. They loved basketball too. My youngest son was like me, not fundamentally sound but creative and loved to play.
Years ago I knew that he wanted to play basketball in a competitive setting but I was hesitant. I was still remembering my experiences and didn’t want him to go through that. I thought that the best way for him to experience competitive basketball for the first time was for me to be his coach. I saw it as an opportunity for me to coach the way I wish I was coached as a kid and make sure he has a different experience. On the surface, it was a great idea. There were only two small issues. The first was that I still had major anxiety issues and the pandemic hadn’t happened yet so coaching virtually wasn’t an option. So I would actually have to interact with new people! The second very small issue was that I had NEVER coached basketball before. I didn’t know the plays or the strategy behind coaching. By the time I had this internal realization I had already signed the both of us up in the under 13 league. My son was the youngest age allowed.
This was definitely going to be interesting.
The season would consist of 10 games and every team would make the playoffs. There were two coaches per team and about 8 players per team. We held tryouts to assess the talent levels of the kids and the goal was to make the teams as even as possible.
I was the assistant coach of “The Red Team”! Very catchy name. And we had a couple really good players to start off with. I was feeling good about the season.
As I waited for the head coach to arrive so we could start our first practice, the commissioner of the league informed me that the other coach had some work conflicts and wouldn’t be able to coach...all year. Wonderful… no pressure.
I tried my best to come up with some practices we could do and drills to run but I was feeling very out of place. The other teams had former college basketball players, multiple year high school coaches and basketball enthusiasts as their coaches. And here I was with a massive imposter syndrome and zero coaching experience. I was freaking out internally. But like I said before we had a couple really good players on our team. I could always just lean on them. Right?
Well..we played our first game and things went absolutely perfect!
For the other team. We got blown out. Our star player was the total opposite of what a team player should be. We had no defense and no one could consistently score. I felt 3 feet tall and they were three feet tall..all of them. Literally. Well one was 4’3 but you get my point. When that first game was over and my team came to the bench, I looked in their eyes. I immediately knew what the problem was. I had been coaching for myself. I wanted them to validate me as a coach. I wasn’t supporting them the way I wanted to be supported when I was their age. I looked into their eyes and the tears that were rolling down their faces made me remember what it felt like to be in their high tops. To be validated solely by a number at the end of a game. I changed my coaching that first loss and started approaching each game as if it were a pick up game with family. No judgement. Just fun.
I told my kids that I don't care if we win one game. I don’t care if we score one point. I want this team to be the best team in terms of defense and character in the league. After that blowout loss one of our star players switched to another team because he wanted to win and the other made his school teams practice the priority. He played 3 games with us. But the kids I was left with had one thing in common. They loved basketball. My new teamwork and defense mindset had the kids having fun. Every game I would bring them something. One week it was red team wristbands. One week red team headbands. Every week I had candy or gum for them and we would celebrate with high fives regardless of the outcome. That season I was proud to say that...we lost literally every single game! LOL
But we had fun doing it. And they became better each game and closer as a team. Now in the beginning I told you that every team would make the playoffs. This turned out to be a blessing and a curse for the red team. We entered the playoffs with the worst record and had to play the best team in the league first. The team that blew us out in the first game. Before that game they were reminding us how they beat us and laughing at how easy the win would be. Little did they know the team that they were facing was a much different team. We worked together, played tough defense and had fun. In the end we beat that team convincingly and eliminated them from the playoffs. But like every other game we lined up and shook hands, No trash talking no revenge just respect. We had our traditional red team treats and high fives and I reminded them again how proud of them I was. But not because we won. Because like every other game they played hard defense, played as a team and had fun.
For our next game we were hit with a curveball. Three of our players couldn't make it. We needed an extra player to meet team regulations. The commissioner asked me to pick up a player from another team who was there and have them join us. Once kids got wind that they could play for our team, the fun team that gets candy and high fives no matter what, they all lined up. All the star players from other teams eagerly volunteered to join us. But there was one kid, who I can still picture in my mind today, who was sitting on the bleachers by himself. He wasn’t that great of a player. He was quiet, a little self-conscious and never got to play much for his team. I walked over to him and asked if he would be able to help us out in the playoffs. His face lit up and he agreed.
I made it clear to him what we were about. Fun, teamwork and defense. And told him that all I needed was for him to play his best. It was the playoffs but for the red team it was just another game. We played the next best team in the league and beat them too. The kid we picked up helped contribute to the win and joined us in our candy and high fives. It was great.
The next two games we played tough defense. We played as a team and we played for fun. We ended up winning the league championship that season and my son hit two crucial free throws in the last seconds of the championship game to help us win. It was an absolutely amazing experience. Not just because we won the championship but because we all grew together and had a great time doing it and I couldn't have been more proud.
I would always tell my team that whether you make a great play or a horrible play, the only thing that matters is your next play. In life you are going to have the good and the bad. But the only thing that matters is that you keep playing. Keep focusing on the next play. That was the red team mentality. That is my mindset. And that is what I bring to coaching. Accepting you where you are. Not focusing on your past but working towards your future. Commitment to helping you get 1% better every day. Respecting you and even though you may have lost in the past, I'll never give up on your ability to win. It’s not about how you started. It's about how you finish.