Take time to cherish the tournament experience
How many times as young basketball players did you stop — really stop — and take time to relish the moment? My guess is not enough.
At its core, buried beneath the suicide drills and film sessions, basketball is fun. It’s the reason we spent all those Saturdays playing 1-on-1 until the sunlight faded from the court. It’s the reason we dribbled basketballs inside the house on rainy days, drawing ire from moms and dads. There was no such thing as too much basketball.
That feeling is unintentionally lost for many. As athletes progress through various levels of the sport, winning is increasingly emphasized. That leads to disappointment when seasons don’t end in championships.
I’m not chastising coaches for wanting to win. That should always be a goal and players must always believe it’s attainable. But don’t let your players forget what brought them there.
Opportunities to inspire your athletes present themselves throughout the season, but nothing’s better than conference and state tournaments. The rivalries, the crowds, the atmosphere, the stakes — everything is bigger.
Nowhere is that more apparent than the NCAA Tournament. From Duke to Norfolk State, all teams bring the same intensity and excitement to March Madness. Everyone is on even footing: win and you advance, lose and you go home. That adds another level of electricity that makes it memorable for fans and players.
NBA players who lived the NCAA Tournament reflect fondly on that experience. These are athletes who perform on national television for millions of fans, yet the thrill of the college tournament remains etched in their memories.
“The intensity and emotions are so high at every game in college, especially in the NCAA Tournament,” Chicago Bulls guard Kirk Hinrich once told the Chicago Tribune.
“There is nothing more special than someone coming up to me on the street and saying: ‘I was at Florida for those ’06 and ’07 championships and those were some special times,'” Joakim Noah told the Tribune. “You feel like you have a special bond, even with the student body.”
High school conference or state tournaments may not rise to the level of the Final Four, but think about the brilliance of such an event. To play with the entire season on the line is a magical experience, especially for seniors who might be wearing the school colors for the last time.
The team wants to win and keep that feeling alive, but I ask you to do one small thing during tournament season: stop. Amidst game planning and getting your team fired up for battle, take 30 seconds to gather your players and take in the moment. Ask them to look up into the stands and find their moms, dads, brothers and sisters. Tell them to close their eyes and listen to the buzz of the crowd as you inch closer to tipoff.
Just once, make them stop and feel the moment.
This is the culmination of a long journey for some of these players. They picked up a ball when they were 5 or 6 years old and fell in love with the sport. Unless they’re playing in college — most aren’t — this is the end of the road.
Help them cherish this experience. They’ll be grateful you did.