When someone meets me one of the first traits they might notice (other than my dashing good looks) is my competitive drive. If you play me in anything I will devote 100% of my energy to beat you. Cards, video games, backyard football, it really doesn’t matter what the activity, I simply hate to lose. It started when I was eleven – my first year playing on a basketball team. Actually, it probably started when I was 8 and first caught the Auburn football fever. At any rate since a very early age competition has been a big part of my life and winning is the gage that measures one’s true competitive nature. I am 30 and not much has changed. I wear a t-shirt with a Vince Lombardi quote that says: “If winning isn’t everything then why do we keep score?” I love that, its catchy, it makes sense.
A really strange thing happened to me last night though. Before I go into detail I need to preface it with what should have happened based on the previous 8 seasons of being a high school basketball coach. The night should have looked something like this: I come in, I exchange unemotional pleasantries with my wife because frankly there is not a lot I want to say. I sit on the couch for several minutes not saying a word until I finally get up to get some food because I realize I haven’t had dinner. I eat dinner in total silence. I move back to the couch and watch SportsCenter or something mindless like that until I start to get tired and turn it off. I climb into bed and try to sleep, by try I mean lying there waiting for the ringing in my ears to die down so I can think better. But thinking is my worst enemy, it’s why I know there is no way I am falling asleep anytime soon. For hours my mind goes back and replays the game, quarter by quarter, play by play. Which plays does my memory bring back over and over and over again? A player fouling out, every single crucial call made by the ref, the missed layup late in the game, my technical foul. You get the idea. That usually describes what my nights are like following a gut- wrenching loss.
Yesterday the conference tournament was held here in Seoul for the JV boys. After starting the season undefeated, we took a skid and lost 3 out of the last 6 games leading up to the tournament. The last coming earlier this week as we suffered our only home defeat in the last regular season game of the season. Needless to say Wednesday night looked a lot like the scenario I laid out earlier (just no SportCenter). To make a long story short we got our revenge and beat that team in the semi-finals of the conference tournament. For the first time in my coaching career I found myself in a championship game at the end of the season. It was a very exciting game, one that went down to the wire (as championships should). Unfortunately we did not come out on top. My players were devastated. I had no idea what I was going to say to them after the game, this was uncharted waters for me. The dialogue that ensued was why I became a coach in the first place. Instead of my guys pouting and being “sore” they came together and verbally expressed appreciation for one another for an unbelievable season. It was like straight out of a movie! My players got it. Winning is NOT everything. The team and the relationships that form through difficulties is what really lasts. It was especially touching to see the whole team come around a player that had picked up a technical foul late in the game. He felt extremely bad and figured we lost because of his actions. The guys assured him that, “we win as a team and we lose as a team.” As a coach I try to use the teacher approach. I teach them all that I know, fundamentals, strategy and hopefully about life. Last night the teacher became the student. Last night I came home to my family and kissed my wife and told them about my team’s championship effort and how great of a season it was. I could barely eat my dinner because I wanted to tell her everything. I never even thought about turning the television on and sleeping….well it was still tough with 10 day old twins!