The 365 Commitment

Day 166 – Teaching Them to Reset

A Memorable Experience at the NCAA Women’s Tournament

Yesterday, my daughter and I attended the NCAA First Round in Regional 2 of the Women’s tournament held at Pauley Pavilion @ UCLA. There were two games. The first was between the Creighton Blue Jays and the UNLV Lady Rebels. The second was between the UCLA Bruins and the CA Baptist Lancers. I have never attended a woman’s NCAA game, and it was fun to go with my daughter and watch this drama unfold. I learned some powerful lessons last night, and the most instructive was Coach Close’s closing remarks in the post-game press conference – which I will detail below.

Insights from the Court: Skill, Strategy, and Determination

Both games told a similar story, and the results reflected that narrative. Both Creighton and UCLA were well-coached teams, with a crew of players that were highly skilled and polished. You could distinctly tell the difference, from the start of each game. UNLV and CA Baptist both played their hearts out and had some really talented players, but they just could not score enough points to keep up with the level of talent they were up against. In the Creighton game, the UNLV Rebels had a strong center who impacted the game and caused a few moments where the ability of the Blue Jays was tested, but in the final outcome, the Creighton team had a core set of skills that were just superior. They passed better, they managed the clock better, they ran clean and well-executed plays. The big difference was the fact they had far superior shot percentage. They got cleaner looks at the basket, due to their ball movement and they just had players that were clearly ready to take shots like these and as the game wore on they just pulled ahead on the scoreboard.

The same tale occurred with UCLA, with a few exceptions. The CA Baptist team was clearly star-struck. Their first season in Division 1 and here they are in the house that Wooden built with Kareem’s retired Jersey hanging from the ceiling. However, once that wore off, they really did prove they came to play. Several times they got the game close, but each time UCLA would regroup and pull ahead again. The big challenge was height. UCLA tends to recruit the best of the best and in this case, that means height. Most of the UCLA players were above 6 feet, whereas there were only a couple on the CA Baptist bench that were anywhere close to 6 feet. This meant that the Lancers were running a 4 Guard setup most of the evening. Running and hustling was their way, and at times they proved difficult to grapple with. However, at the end of the evening, the same story happened. UCLA just had more raw talent and they were well-rehearsed, with clear lines of attack that were just too much for CA Baptist to keep up with.

The Foundation of Success: Mastering the Basics

So, the first lesson that I learned was how valuable the basic skills are. If you want to be better than others, to beat out the competition, to outperform your adversaries then you cannot escape the fact that you have to be really good at the basics. There was not a member of the UCLA Bruins that was not a threat from anywhere on the court. Each one of them had a high percentage shot at their disposal, each one of them could pass the ball effectively, and each one of them knew their plays well and what position they should be in at all times. I saw a few mistakes, and you could see the coach provide instant feedback. This was clearly a cadence that had been practiced and practiced. These women knew exactly what to do in each situation and that dynamic played out over and over again. They were just better than their competition. So, to repeat – if you want to be better than the competition – then get the basics right.

The Art of the Timeout: A Strategic Reset

However, there was another dynamic going on that I was puzzled about during the game. On two occasions, CA Baptist pulled the game to an under 10 pt lead. The UCLA head coach would call a timeout. Instantly her staff would run chairs out onto the court in a semi-circle for the five players to sit at. She would say something to them and then pretty much ignore them for the rest of the timeout. Instead, she would hold council with her assistants in the middle of the court. When the timeout finished her team would take to the court again. In each situation, the Bruins immediately turned the game around. Suddenly their plays would work, they would get a turnover or two and then just like that, they would be up by 20 points again. What was going on here? Clearly, the coach had a system in play here and I sat there trying to figure it out. I could even catch a glimpse of one of her assistant’s clipboards to see a rough sketch of an isolation play they were thinking of. However, that was not communicated to the players in any way that I could see, so I still wondered – what was the magic that was occurring in the UCLA timeouts?

It was in the postgame interview with Coach Close with the Bruins where this magic was revealed. I found this fascinating. Here is what Coach Close said –

“Both timeouts that I had to call, we responded out of those and had big runs out of both of those timeouts and my challenge to them in the locker room was, can you do that on your own? Can you do that at a dead ball, or after a free throw? Can you connect and make that response quicker and not wait for a timeout to make those things happen?”

I went back and watched the game. After halftime, I noticed something that the UCLA players were doing. After a team foul, or a penalty on a shot, or if the ball went out of bounds, the UCLA team would quickly huddle together. One of them would look toward the coaching staff, but the others would huddle there together for a moment and they seemed to be just taking a deep breath. What were they doing?

Clearly, they were doing exactly what Coach Close was teaching them to do. Re-connect to their game plan, understand what is going on in the moment, and bring your mind and body back to the situation at hand and reset yourself to deal with what is before you. This was a powerful thing to watch because, sure enough, toward the end of the game, the Bruins would come out of their little mini huddle with renewed intensity and then they would run their well-orchestrated machine again.

Personal Reflections on Resetting

On my long drive home, I contemplated this concept. How do I reset? Do I need a long vacation (timeout) every time, or can I train myself to reset in the moment, during the day, right in the middle of the heat of action. Rather than letting myself get distracted by other people’s agendas, can I gather myself together, take a deep breath, and reset myself? I am grateful that I got to watch Coach Close in action last night because this has given me new inspiration on how to deal with the many distractions that come up in life

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