Your Focus Needs More Focus

One of my greatest joys in life is being a parent and I am watching with anticipation to see how God is working in the lives of my kids.  Our oldest son, Caleb, is carving out his path as a high school teacher and coach and volunteered to once again provide some insights from his early coaching experiences . . .

In one of Coach Cain’s recent posts: Waiting in Basketball, my dad detailed the importance of patience in a sport that often seems geared towards tempo, speed, and instant gratification.  After reading it, I was reminded of a few personal experiences that also pertain to speed of the game and the pressure that can result from it.

Basketball – Dealing With Havoc

When I last wrote for Three Point Wisdom a year ago, I detailed my experiences coaching Lake Country Lutheran’s freshman girls’ basketball team.  This year I am coaching many of those same girls as sophomores at the JV level, as well as a few new faces.  It has been a joy to see the girls progress in their talents and basketball IQ’s, but this year has had its share of challenges.

After winning our first three games of the season, we faced two schools who frequently use full-court pressing styles to speed up their opponents, force turnovers and prevent them from getting rhythm. Suffice to say these game plans worked against us as we easily succumbed to the pressure from our opponents and lost both games. Frustrated, I began researching the many presses and trapping philosophies in basketball, how to break them, and how to prepare for them.  In particular, I came across Texas coach Shaka Smart’s full court 1-2-1-1 HAVOC defense from his days coaching at VCU:

Shaka was very clear that the purpose of his press was to speed the offense up to get them out of control and force turnovers, which was EXACTLY what happened to my team.  I watched a number of VCU’s games to better understand this philosophy and saw Smart’s team ride the pressure all the way to the Final Four.  That’s where they faced Brad Stevens’ Butler Bulldogs. Butler defeated VCU by eight and throughout the game (which you can watch in its entirety here), it’s clear that Stevens and his players were well prepared. Despite VCU’s pressure and havoc, Butler players kept their heads and TALKED through every situation.

In addition to all this research, I of course talked extensively with the smartest basketball mind I know, my Dad.  Coach Cain reminded me of how important communication is in pressure situations and how I had to instill focus in my players.  He suggested I use one of his favorite drills, which I can vividly remember him using during my time at CUW.  The drill is called “chaos,” and it is actually a combination of passing, shooting, transition, and defense drills.  The coach tells the players that they need to focus and pay attention for the next few minutes.  Then, the coach rapidly jumps from drill to drill (and back to drills) all while trying to speed the players up with voice and verbal pressure.  Chaos was a hit with my team, because they realized what I was doing. I sped them up just like those two schools did.  I have to credit my dad with all of this and even used the same Mr. Miyagi Karate Kid II quote that he uses with his teams: “your focus needs more focus.”

In basketball it’s vital that a team learns how to respond when things go wrong, they can always talk it through and help each other focus. Since regularly implementing chaos in my practices, the girls have communicated more and responded better to pressure situations in games. Chaos was a major turning point for our season!

Life – Communication

We all know life gets chaotic.  For me, there is pressure every single day.  Whether it’s the pressure of creating engaging lessons and helping my students learn the content they need or preparing my players for their next game, the pressure can start to build.  In many ways, life can throw us a 1-2-1-1 havoc full court press.  The demands of a career, family, and whatever other circumstance can leave one feeling overwhelmed and inadequate.  As a young teacher I’ve found that one of the best tools for handling life’s pressures is the same for handling presses and traps in basketball: communication.  At Lake Country Lutheran, I’ve been blessed to be surrounded with a supportive group of fellow teachers.   My second year has presented challenging issues, but I’ve found that conversation with fellow teachers can help me overcome such pressures.  The same is true with communication with my dad.  It’s not always about basketball, but I always feel better after seeking his advice.  I hope that whoever is reading this has a support system of people in their life who can help talk through life’s crazy full court pressures!

Faith – Focus and Communicate

As life’s pressures weigh on us, it becomes easy to either lose sight of God or question where He is in the chaos.  With responsibilities mounting and the need for rest pressing, it becomes logical to skip out on worship or Bible studies.  But Scripture has some great insight for dealing with pressure.  A great example of this can be seen in all four Gospel accounts, when Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane.  The night before His crucifixion, Jesus was struggling with the extremest of pressure from what He knew He had to do and provided the perfect example of how to attack pressure:  communication.  He prayed.  Jesus spent the night in conversation with his Father, receiving the strength he needed to fulfill the task at hand.  While sin likes to attack us with a full court press every day, we can get through it just like we do in basketball, with focus and communication.  Prayer is vitally important, as it helps faith and our relationship with God to grow.  I’ve found that prayer provides me with comfort and focus and eases the weight of everything that hinders me.  Additionally, one of my favorite sections of scripture comes from James 1:2-4. James details the following regarding life’s challenges:

“Consider it pure joy, my brothers and sisters, whenever you face trials of many kinds, because you know that the testing of your faith produces perseverance.  Let perseverance finish its work so that you may be mature and complete, not lacking anything.

While it may not seem like it, maybe God is putting these pressures in our lives to strengthen us and trust Him more. It sounds cliché, but everything does happen for a reason, according to God’s plan.  As pressure extends towards you, you do not have to succumb.  Accept it, but attack it with focus and communication.  Chaos will happen, so prepare for it and talk it through!