So far this basketball season, my team has been truly fortunate in our first two games – winning by considerable margins and doing so by playing the type of basketball we want to play: tough deny defense, help-side defense, pushing the basketball and not settling for jump shots. (For the record, we are now 4-1 going into today’s game.)

Our first game had us playing a team we simply over-matched both skill-wise and athletically. In that game the process of subbing in every player was an easy task as the level of play evened out as we used all of our substitutes. Those are the types of blowouts where the outcome is never in doubt and you can try and get lots of experience for your younger and less gifted players.

Having the right game plan puts your players in the best possible place to succeed

The second game was a whole different story. Yes, we won 36-12, but I never truly felt comfortable with the lead or the situation. We won, not because we over-matched them in talent, but because we were by far the more disciplined team on the court, being patient when we needed to be and pushing the pace when the opportunity presented itself. In this case, with the talent level being even at the top, substituting out all of our regular rotation guys would have instantly cut the lead by a huge amount.

So at what point do you actually do that?

That’s where the other team felt we were intentionally running up the score – and where I disagreed. We had no press, stayed in a basic man defense and ran our offense without any fast breaks. In fact, we ran our offense so well that it chewed off the last 3 minutes of the game. Dean Smith would have been very proud.

On our team, we stress character – probably more than most. There was no hooting, hollering or showboating during the two blowouts and our boys treated the other teams with respect after the game. They did something I think is desperately lacking in our sports culture – they cheered for our team and not against the other. Last year, we were on the other end of a few early season blowouts and took to understanding how other teams played efficiently against us as our spirits were crushed. As a coach, I made a point to thank each player on the other team for the effort and point out something good they did – even if it was just flat-out hustle.

So what have I learned? To not take these games for granted. To play as many kids as possible without deflating your own team and what they worked hard to accomplish. To show respect for your opponent in not running up the score (as opposed to those who claim you are showing respect by keeping your foot on the pedal after the race is won). To introduce your players to empathy and the fact that it is not an act of treason against competing. And to remember above all that it is a game. A win or loss does not change who we are as a person and what we stand for at the end of the day.

So what do you do when a game starts getting away from you?

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