Monday, November 26, 2012

On Monkeys and Insanity

I need to start this post with a tremendous thank you for everyone's kind words regarding my last post. To everyone who tweeted, emailed, shared my post and to friends who told me that they enjoyed it - thank you very much.  I am touched, humbled, and flattered by your kindness.  Thank you for filling my bucket.

When I wrote my first post of the year I mentioned that I wouldn't be spending a lot of time summarizing our games. I did this for a few reasons.  For one, I am by no means a professional and my writing cannot compete with the journalists who cover us. For another, I'm far from impartial, and would really struggle if I had to talk about my opponents. The biggest reason is that after tough weekends I wouldn't really know what to say. How do you sit down at a computer and crank out 500 words on disappointment, frustration, or heartbreak? It would be hard to write and brutal to read. After two tough losses against Acadia I couldn't even write. After two more losses last weekend I just ignored the games and wrote about our locker room. But this week, after two very difficult losses I can't ignore it anymore. We are 0-6. Winless. In last place. There is a monkey on our back who is tightening his grip and refuses to be ignored any longer.

Everyday this monkey attacks our confidence. He tries to lure us away from self-discipline. He tries to steal our love for this game. And if we let him have his way we'll stop caring, we'll stop working, and we'll lose sight of our goals.

Let me be really clear: losing sucks. It sucks. It doesn't just make you sad, it's more complicated than that. You're angry, disappointed, ashamed, and embarrassed. You regret bad decisions and replay your mistakes over and over again in your head. It hurts, in your body, mind, and spirit. But this pain is useful. The pain of losing reminds us that the pain of workouts isn't nearly as bad as we think it is. The big problem is if we begin to tolerate losing, if the sting after the sixth loss doesn't hurt as much as the first. That's when you know you're in trouble, and that's when the monkey wins.

Coach Speedy tells us that 'insanity' can be defined as doing the same thing over and over and expecting a different result. Something clearly isn't working on our team. I mean it when I say that I love my team, but we just aren't getting the job done on the court. We've clearly hit a wall and we can either continue to bash our heads against it or we can get creative; we can change something up, and experiment with ways to go under, over, or around the wall.  I don't have the solution, but we all know that something isn't working.

For our supporters who are reading this, thank you for sticking with us while we are struggling. I have seen my team do great things and I believe we will get there again. If it is any consolation I want you to know that the sting of losing is still there, and the sixth loss didn't hurt any less than the first - it hurt exponentially more.

We know that our season isn't off to a great start but we aren't giving up. We will get creative and we will shake off this monkey. We are committed to fixing our mistakes and moving forward. This week we are clenching our jaws, pushing our limits, and raising our bar.


Wednesday, November 21, 2012

Bucket Filling

“All day long, everyone in the whole wide world walks around carrying an invisible bucket. You can’t see it, but it’s there. … Your bucket has one purpose only.  Its purpose is to hold your good thoughts and good feelings about yourself. You feel very happy and good when you bucket is full and you feel very sad and lonely when your bucket is empty.” So begins a children’s book titled “Have You Filled a Bucket Today” by Carol McCloud.

The book continues on to explain how you fill other people’s buckets by giving them compliments, helping them, and telling them you love them.  It also cautions against having an empty bucket, when you are tempted to dip into someone else’s full bucket.  The book explains that we are all either ‘bucket fillers’ or ‘bucket dippers’. We can either be positive influences in the lives of other people or we can be negative influences.  

Now, if you’re still reading, please stay with me.  I promise I will explain why this is relevant to a university basketball team.  

I first encountered bucket filling last summer when I was helping run a workshop for teenage girls.  My boss’ wife brought the book and read it to the girls.  Although skeptical at first, I was amazed at how well a bunch of 13-16 year old girls responded.  We spent hours discussing high school pressures and the difficulties of being a teenager.  We concluded that life would be a lot easier if girls took time to fill each other’s buckets instead of constantly dipping into them.  The metaphor is simple, but really resonated with the girls, and with me.  I entered this season with a new perspective.  As a fifth year a lot of my role was going to involve telling teammates what to do, calling girls out when they do something wrong, and beating up on them in practice. When I do these things I’m doing my job and I’m helping my team, but I can’t just empty buckets.  I need to fill them as well.

In September I had a conversation with Barb, our mental skills coach, and explained how I was going to make a concerted effort to fill buckets.  Nothing big, nothing fancy, but I was going to try to remember to be positive with my teammates. Now, I need to take this chance to tell you a little bit about Barb.  I’ve tried to write about her before but I can never come up with the right words.  Barb is amazing.  She is compassionate and encouraging while still being exceptionally competitive.  If you need anything from her you just need to think about it and she magically makes it happen.  Anyway, I told her about my new focus on filling buckets and she ran with it, finding a tangible way to bring it to the team. 

A week later we each had a bucket in our lockers and pads of paper in the teamroom.  We started that day by leaving each person a note and we’ve continued on since then.  There aren’t any rules.  Notes can be signed or anonymous (although any that I get addressed to “grandma” I know came from a rookie). Sometimes I leave a teammate a note if I notice she’s been struggling, or if she’s really stepped up and deserves to be recognized.   The words I’ve found in bucket have been incredibly moving, supportive, and source of motivation. “Your caring attitude will be the reason that we succeed” said one note that I found in my bucket. “I would be lost at practice without you” said another.  After a particularly tough day I got one that said “I want you to remember how important you are to our team at all times”.

I think ‘buckets’ are a great tool for classrooms, teams, workplaces and families.  When my team feels good about ourselves we work harder, are more productive, and are definitely a lot nicer to be around.  The notes in our locker are amazing, but bucket filling can be simpler too.  Give someone a hug or a high five and tell them you appreciate them.

So if you’re still reading this do me a favour okay?  Fill someone’s bucket today. Recognize a co-worker for their hard word, give your parents a note with the top five reasons you love them, or thank a teammate for making you better today.  You’ll feel good, they’ll feel good, and you’ll both have a better day.


Thursday, November 8, 2012

My Last First Home Game

Mel Foster and I are both in our fifth year of eligibility.  No matter what happens this season we can’t play another one.  We’ve been talking about it a lot.  Everything that happens now is for the last time around – and we keep mentioning it.  “This is the last time we’ll go to the Athlete Compliance Meeting” “This is the last time we’ll play at the Helen Campbell Tourney” and so on.  Sometimes we get a little ridiculous – “This is the last time we’ll have to practice in The Pit on a Tuesday when it’s raining”. This weekend is a big one.  Tomorrow we open the regular season, at home, against Acadia.  It is our last first game, our last home opener.

Why is this milestone important? Well for the first time in eight months we’re playing in a game that matters.  A game where the result has a bigger ramification than our moods for the night.  Plus, we’re playing it at home which – trust me – is every athlete’s favourite place to play.  There is a fair bit of anticipation surrounding this weekend.  All that being said, it’s still November so there isn’t really a lot of pressure yet.  We’re chomping at the bit to get going but we’ve got five months to fix any mistakes. It’s the recipe for a great weekend. 

We’re prepared.  Like I said last week, we’ve gone though a long preseason and played some very tough competition.  We have learned a lot.  We rallied when we were behind, and we kept it together when we could have fallen apart. We won some games against some strong teams and we lost some as well.  We’ve lifted weights, we’ve run sprints, and done breakdown drills.  We’ve had team dinners (and breakfasts and lunches) and bonding activities.  We’ve watched video, had game-day shoots, and 36 practices.  And the best part? We’re only just getting started.     

Tip tomorrow and Saturday is at 6:00.  The men follow both nights at 8:00.  If you can’t make it to the Currie Centre you can find links to the webcast at


Monday, November 5, 2012

Preseason Wrap-Up

We went 1-2 on the weekend. We lost to Div I University of Maine on Thursday night and Div II Southern New Hampshire University on Friday. This afternoon we beat Div II Saint Anslem. Right now were on the long drive back to Freddy from Manchester, NH.

The team is split up into three vans. I'm in one with Tilly, Caroline, Dutchie, and Nisja, accompanied by Skip and Jennifer Speedy (Coach's parents). I'm not entirely sure where we are... somewhere in Maine. We just finished watching Slumdog Millionaire - a slight challenge with the subtitles on the van's teeny TVs.

The long drive is sort of symbolic; we're transitioning between two distinct parts of the year. We just played our last game of the preseason. When we get back to work this week it's for real. The last twelve games have been important steps for us to grow and gel as a team, but wins and losses didn't matter. We were out there focusing on getting better everyday, but we weren't looking at the scoreboard. Do we still need to get better everyday? Of course, but we have another job now, a job that is a whole lot less subjective.

It's sort of like midterms (which we are all a little focused on right now). Sometimes you have to write essays. Essays are subjective: you can get two different grades from two different profs with the same essay. Multiple choice tests are different, each question has a right answer and if you choose that one you get the question right. If you choose a different option you get the question wrong. No opinion, no analysis, no trying to talk your way towards a few marks when you don't know the right answer.

I'd be lying if I said we didn't care about wins and losses in the preseason. None of us would have gotten very far in competitive sports if we didn't like winning. But winning isn't the focus during preseason.

There are a few objectives in the preseason.

Early on we do fitness testing and get our butts kicked in workouts (I'll take this opportunity to brag about my PB beep test score). We shake off any summer rust and get some casual runs in.

Once practices get started we go pretty hard, and usually have some extra cardio and sprints thrown in at the end. The worst thing is when you think practice is over and then, surprise! Get on the sideline and get ready to run. Sometimes we try to sneak a peek at Speedy's practice plan so we know if it's coming (sorry Coach...).

When preseason tournaments get added the schedule gets a little busy but it helps get us settled into a routine. Tourneys give us a chance to play against defences that we don't use and, in some cases, girls who are faster, bigger, and stronger than we are.

Once this car ride is over the preseason is officially finished.

We got a lot from our preseason. We're smarter, tougher, and, okay right now we're a little tired, but we're energized. We're excited to get going with the next big step in our journey. The real challenge starts now. And we're ready.