One thing I was a little worried about when starting at NCC a few months ago was how the players would respond to the System. Would they buy in?
At ONU, I was spoiled. After eight years, there wasn't really any question of buying-in to the System. That was a given. It was who we were. TigerBall was what we did. I only felt comfortable retiring knowing that Lauren, my long-time assistant, was willing and eager to maintain the tradition. Our players were so "sold" on the System that I don't know how they would have reacted to a non-System coach forcing them back into a half-court mold.
But what about a new team? What about NCC? Would they be eager, reluctant, hostile? Michelle and I didn't know what to expect.
But our first hint came on the evening of our initial team meeting on September 10, at the beginning of this new academic year. We laid it out for them, and I could see the eyes getting big as we described System basketball. The next day, the buzz seemed positive, and now, four weeks later with just a few days to go before our first practice on October 15, the buzz is a quiet roar. Michelle and I agree that the general mood is one of unbridled enthusiasm!
What's not to like. Coaches are telling them they will all play. You will have the green light to shoot. We will have fun. Practices will be shorter. More to the point, we are going to go from the conventional ideas about "defending" to the System concept of "Attack!" This is an aggressive team, from what Michelle has told me. They want to just go get the opponent, and the System seems tailor-made for that instinct.
In that respect, they remind me of my first college team as a head coach at Aurora University in the mid-1990s. One night during my first season we were practicing late. The players trooped down to their basement locker room when we were done, and came running back upstairs to the gym a few minutes later to tell me that someone had broken in and stolen their warmup gear, their nice blue hoodies and sweatpants. The players were really angry, and I made a quick call to campus security, knowing that there was probably little that could be done to recover our property. One of the players had seen a few high school kids hanging around campus before practice, and our guess that the gear was in somebody's trunk.
The next day I saw one of our seniors. Trying to be sympathetic and helpful, I promised her we'd follow up with campus security to see if we could learn anything more about the missing equipment. "Thanks Coach," she said, "but we are already taking care of it. We went cruising around town last night to look for anybody wearing our stuff, so we could beat the crap out of them."
Well, as an educator I couldn't condone the "beat the crap out of them" sentiment, but right at that moment I knew I had a basketball team.
Buy-in is partly about accepting the System philosophy. But it is also about having the right mentality. And "Let's beat the crap out of them" expresses that mentality pretty accurately (albeit, rather crudely)! Odd thing is, I've never made an issue of winning, scoring margin, or "beating the crap" out of the opponent. But I do really, really, really care about playing hard, about process and improvement, and about respecting the game (and the opponent) by giving them our very best, by giving an absolute maximum effort.
Just do that, and that's enough. Funny thing is, when I express those noble sentiments to a team of passive personalities, something gets lost in translation. But when talking to a team--like I think this NCC team might be--which has an innate instinct to ATTACK the opponent, it's interesting to see how quickly they seem to "get it."
With a team like that, Buy-in is easy.