Tuesday, January 15, 2013

At the Half

At the Syracuse University Women's Basketball game this evening, the Orange were down at the half. I was sitting in the Dome next to my father and we were both taken aback by this turn of events. We've been going to most of the games and this was the first time that they were behind at halftime and looking as though they might not be able to pull it out. While the halftime things were going on, kids running down the court and getting into oversized basketball clothes before trying to go back down the court to score a basket, we sat pretty quietly.

"Nailbiter," Dad said.

I nodded.

I wondered what a coach says to his team in the locker room at halftime when they are down and haven't been able to get their game going. I know for sure that a coach doesn't go in and sound as though they are already beaten. I can't imagine any good coach doing that anyway and so, sitting in the stands, I tried to imagine myself as the coach. What would I say?

First, I would talk about what had happened.

We're down by however many points and they are getting downcourt faster than we are especially after they pull a defensive rebound. We're missing the backdoor cuts too. They're drawing our center forward and then going backdoor over and over. What can we do about that?

I like the sound of asking them a question.

When we come out for the second half, we're pressing. We're going to disrupt their game, make them work hard to get the ball up the court. That's going to mean that we're going to have to defend the deep ball when they break the press, but it also means we're going to score off of turnovers and rattle the hell out of them.

My guess is that I wouldn't give them much of a pep talk as have them think about what they can do and lay out a plan for a way forward. Then, when we came out for the second half, I would keep asking them what we can do and directing them forward.

Sitting in the stands at halftime I imagined the second half and, for whatever reason, I saw the score. Not the halftime score on the board across the Dome but the score I had begun to imagine for the end of the second half. I didn't really have numbers on it, but I knew that winning was possible. Hell, I knew it was probable and was on my way toward believing that it was a done deal.

It's always halftime. There is the stuff that has gone before and there is the possibility of what is coming up next. And in the middle of all that I'm sitting at halftime giving myself a speech. I've spent many a halftime bemoaning all the mistakes and missed opportunities of the first half of play. It's easy to do. It's just as easy to look at the second half as a process of having to climb out of a hole instead of just another half to play. Think of that. If the coach goes in at halftime and starts lecturing about how many points the team needs to score just to get back to a tie, the team is going to focus again on every missed shot -- both those from the first half gone by and the new ones they will try to hoist in the second half yet to come.

Doing that, the players will be dwelling in the past and the future instead of living in the moment. A jump-shot and even a lay-up are things of the moment. The shooter who is present to the moment without anxiety and baggage is the one who scores in double figures or leads in assists or grabs the most rebounds or steals. The player who is playing the game in the moment can see the action almost as though it has slowed down for her. She understands that her body and mind will take her where she needs to go. And even when she misses a shot, she knows that she has to keep shooting and that the shot will fall.

I had halftime today with my youngest daughter, with my mother, and with myself. In each case, for whatever reason, my speech was all about knowing what had gone on before and then setting a path forward by being present right then. It's a start and it worked to different degrees in each situation. And there's the signal for us to head out for the next half of play. Game on. The game is always on.

On Three: One, two, three, write on!