Poise in the Face of Adversity

James Crisp AP Photo

Poise is defined as ‘a dignified, self-confident manner or steadiness.’  It was a word we used with our team repeatedly during the last few weeks of our season and throughout a run to the conference championship game. In the semifinal game, we showed tremendous poise against a relentlessly attacking and highly skilled offensive team on their home court, but in the subsequent championship game against a nationally ranked opponent we briefly lost our poise for a short span that cost us the game and ended our season.  It’s a lesson that repeats itself over and over in every season, with every team – Handle adversity with poise.  Get on the same page, communicate, and work together – but, man is that hard to do!

BASKETBALL – Two Examples

After seeing our season end, I turned on the TV and saw two perfect examples of teams losing their poise after seemingly having everything under control.  Oklahoma, with a 10-18 record was playing at #1 Kansas in Phog Allen Fieldhouse on Senior Night.  The young Sooner squad exhibited poise and control throughout the game, even building a twelve point lead midway through the second half.  Slowly, but surely, however, the tide changed and the Sooners lost their poise:

And the next night, Vanderbilt led #9 Kentucky by 19 in the second half before this happened:

I realize that we’re talking about two of the most difficult places for anyone to play – Allen Fieldhouse and Rupp Arena, but the significance can’t be lost.  These are extremely difficult places to play, especially when the crowd gets behind the comeback and the noise is deafening and you can barely hear yourself think.  Players do things they wouldn’t normally do and no matter how much you have prepared them, things just snowball.  Lon Kruger at OU and Bryce Drew at Vandy are REALLY good coaches who undoubtedly had plans to handle hostile environments, but even the most experienced and the most talented can be shaken.

So what’s a coach to do?  John Wooden felt poise was so essential that he included it at the top of his Pyramid of Successbut as you review his career, one can find plenty of times when his players or even the Wizard himself dropped the ball and showed a lack of poise.  It’s very difficult to predict how any player or coach will handle the adversity of a pressure game in a hostile environment.  As a coach, I’ve seen confident, talented players wilt in front of huge crowds at Texas or Arkansas and if I’ve seen role players perfectly handle the intensity of the Cameron Crazies at Duke.  Even though we work on communication, handling pressure defenses, and using sets (see Settle Down With a Horns Set) to settle down, there’s no telling when a player, team, or coach will lose their poise.  Hall of Fame High School Coach Morgan Wooten took a stab at it as well suggesting parental examples, dedication to the game, focus, drive, and reading/reacting to defenses are five keys to developing poise.

I wish I had a lot of wisdom on this, but I’ve seen it happen to all of us!  The truly bone-rattling, pressure situations don’t come along every day.  All you can do is learn from each one, model poise for each other, hold true to your program principles, and make good decisions. (For more ideas, check out some of our first articles about the Foes of Good Decisions: HasteAnger, and Desperation. Hopefully, the more situations you experience, the more wisdom you gain.

LIFE – Daily Poise

Can’t we all use a little poise in our daily lives as well?  Sometimes, you just don’t know how you’re going to handle adversity.  It may be on the job when a co-worker takes credit for your work or a mistake you’ve made costs the company money or time.  It may be at home when the kids have pushed you to the limit and the oven timer for dinner is going off and the doorbell is ringing.  Ever been there?  Maybe it’s even bigger like a phone call from the police about your teenager or the announcement of job cuts or a diagnosis from the doctor.  We all hope and wish we could react with steady confidence and dignity, don’t we?  But how much preparation can we really do?  Even if we put on a calm face, things may not turn out as we hope.  Poise, then, is not simply a goal to look good.  I’ve seen plenty of teams show poise and still lose and I’ve seen plenty of people appear like they’re holding it together despite troubling circumstances.  Poise is having a steady confidence in who you are and what you believe.  It comes from confidence.

FAITH – Poise & Wisdom

Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Since we know where we’re going and who is in control, shouldn’t we as Christians be examples of poise, in any situation?  My church is incredibly blessed right now. We have three terrific pastors, each gifted in different areas.  About a year ago, we added one of my favorite preachers, who coincidentally had just received a diagnosis of cancer to the staff.  As he has battled through treatments and scary diagnoses, he has continued to preach and continues to model the epitome of poise for our congregation.  How does he exhibit such poise?  His poise comes through wisdom gained throughout his study of scripture and applying it to his life and to the lives of others.  Because he knows beyond a doubt the promises of God’s Word, he preaches with a smile on his face and with a joy that is infectious. It is written in Ecclesiastes:

Who is like the wise?
    Who knows the explanation of things?
A person’s wisdom brightens their face
    and changes its hard appearance.  (Ecclesiastes 8:1)

How does a Christian display poise?  The wisdom we gain in searching and understanding scripture will develop a confidence that joyfully shines through in our words, our actions, and even in our appearance to others. When I hear my pastor preach, that’s what I see. True poise in the face of any adversity is confidence gained through a relationship with Jesus. Thank you, Pastor Kelm!