“Today my job is to set the screen and then get to my open position for a pass.” If you have ever been a parent who has mused at, and sometimes painfully watched, little kids play “swarm ball”, then like me, words like these are music to your ears. “What’s this?! They are playing positions, they are starting to understand roles and how each role fits together as team!” You start to realize that perhaps some real play of the sport could be emerging and that they might stop stealing the ball from their own teammate. (Am I alone in crying out “Spread out!” from the sideline?)
Watching this last weekend’s game and watching a team of 8 year old boys really make it happen on the court got me thinking about just how important it is to ensure every last player on the team, at every given moment, understands their role, what their job is, how they support each other, and that each of them is as important as the next. These boys were rocking it – the Point Guard taking it down court, the other players getting into predetermined positions around the court. The Point Guard calls out the play and the team moves into positions, giving and going, setting screens and crossing court. The pass lands into the hands of the boy crossing and the Point Guard moves toward the basket and is there for the pass back. He shoots.
And the point is not whether the basket makes it in (which it doesn’t more often than not). The point is, they are working the play and taking the shots. Even the fast breaks are orchestrated – while they may look like a one-man play, it takes the team drawing the defense away to make it work. And it’s going well… until it doesn’t. The boys get caught up and the pressure builds and chaos takes over – positioning falls apart, passes aren’t landing, the boys lose confidence, takeovers increase and shots aren’t taken.
This 3rd grade boys basketball game becomes the perfect illustration of irrefutable laws of teams: everyone must have clarity of their role and the roles of others, every role is as important as the next, we must trust each other to deliver and it takes everyone to make it work.
Half time comes and the Coach reminds the team of their jobs. They settle down and things start moving again. The team plays beautifully. They don’t leave the court with a win, this time (this is real life – we lose sometimes!) but when you consider the distance between this kind of play and “swarm ball”, you can’t help but mark the “win” in terms of teaming skills that will translate not only in their next game, but in life.
I think of all the times, including now, where I am part of a new team. Forming, storming… and how we, sometimes as players and sometimes as Coaches, are all called to drive clarity around our role and how we make an impact on our court. It also makes me thankful that I have a group of Coaches with me who are as committed to running the plays as I am. The more we practice working a team-based model, the more shots we take (and make!) together.