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The Challenge Ahead

Tom Hughes explains how he plans to overcome a 'thunderbolt' that struck his basketball team.

I knew that my inexperienced team would face many challenges. Though short in size and experience, I thought that we would be able to mold this group into a team that would challenge by the end of the season. Our players have always worked extremely hard, and I felt this team would be no different - our hard work, our attitude, our commitment, and our character - would pay off for us.

But this team would be different from any team I had ever coached. While we continue to work hard, our commitment and our character have been less than stellar, something that has disappointed and frustrated me as their coach and their leader.

Crisis in Character

For the first time in my coaching career, my team has suffered from a character crisis. Most teams identify with a leader. Unfortunately, the leader that our players identified with was leading us in the wrong direction. Dismissed from the team during the summer workouts because of his poor work ethic and defiant attitude, I was talked into allowing him back on the squad by his teammates. Before our first game, this individual was suspended from the team. In the weeks that followed, we were forced to suspend four more individuals from the team because of attitude, behaviour, and character issues. But I still felt that this team would come together as we entered Region play. Pat Riley, former coach of the LA Lakers and Miami Heat, talks about "Thunderbolts" in his book, "The Winner Within." According to Riley, "A thunderbolt is something beyond your control. A phenomenon that one day strikes you, your team, your business, your city, and even your nation. It rocks you; it blows you into a crater. You have no choice except to take the hit. But you do have a lot of choice about what to do next."

The thunderbolt

This past week, our team was rocked by a "thunderbolt". Unexpectedly, this "thunderbolt", led to half our team being dismissed. Without going into details, this lack of character on the part of several individuals tore at the very heart and soul of our team. It was a blow that we all must find a way to recover from. And being honest, I am not sure we will be able to recover.

Having experienced coaching on the professional, collegiate, and high school levels, I realize that losing games is as much a reality as winning. You take the losses and hope to learn from them. You do not embrace them, and good teams do not settle for them. But games and preparation for the games teach values that carry over in life itself.

The way forward

So how do we handle this "thunderbolt"? I am not sure. But I do know that the survivors need not be punished for their teammates' lack of character. Reflecting on how I have handled the first few days of the aftermath of the "thunderbolt". As a coach and a mentor, I did not do a very good job. I was upset and angry at the young men who were no longer with us. Because of that, I failed those who were still with us. So what do I do now?

First, I need to develop an "Attitude of Gratitude": to be thankful for the young men that I get to lead for the remainder of the season. I need to make sure that I am in the trenches fighting with them and for them, and not against them. These young men are winners in my eyes because they have chosen to do the right thing. They have put their team, their family, and their reputation first and foremost.


Secondly, we have adopted the motto "Family": Families will fight together when push comes to shove. I need to make sure this "Family" group has what is necessary to become successful. And I am not speaking about basketball success. Eva Callahan states, "We are all connected through compassion. It is about taking care of each other as if we were all part of an extended family."

Third, I need to have our players (and myself) focus on what we do well and build upon that. And I must reinforce something that my good friend, Brendan Adey, and I spoke about during the recent Christmas holidays.

  1. We need to visualize our Future Success. We cannot dwell upon the past. It is gone and in the record books and we cannot undo what has been done
  2. We need to set SMART goals for the remainder of the season. SMART is an acronym for Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Timely
  3. We have to change the three things that will help us achieve success: Our beliefs, our body language, and our self-talk. And that starts with me. They have to believe that we can achieve our goals--they have to develop a swagger that has been missing, and we need to rid ourselves of the negative self-talk

Fourth, we need to dumb down. We have been adding to our offensive and defensive schemes, and I am not sure that we can handle the additions at this time. So, we are going back to a basic vanilla brand of fundamental basketball, something that our players are comfortable with and will be able to execute

And finally, I must catch them doing something right. Every day I must find a way to praise each player on my team. It is a habit that must begin with me and carry over to each member of our team. There is an old saying that says, "Love means looking for good." Author and motivational speaker, Bob Moawad, states: "People are in greater need of your praise when they try and fail, than when they try and succeed."

Pat Riley states; "The person who makes the difference, who leads his or her team into significant achievement, will be the one who starts by keeping wins and losses in perspective. You have to take what comes at you but roar back at it and not let it overwhelm you. Refuse to accept that a "Thunderbolt" has the power to ruin your life, and that is half the job of overcoming it."

In the coming weeks, our team will face an uphill battle. Our expectations will be self-fulfilling. We must set our sights on accomplishing one small victory at a time, being better at the end of every day than we were the day before.

Inch by Inch is a Cinch.

Article Reference

This article first appeared in:

  • HUGHES, T. (2006) The Challenge ahead. Brian Mackenzie's Successful Coaching, (ISSN 1745-7513/ 29 / February), p. 5-6

Page Reference

If you quote information from this page in your work, then the reference for this page is:

  • HUGHES, T. (2006) The Challenge Ahead [WWW] Available from: [Accessed

About the Author

Tom Hughes is a coach, educator, author, clinician, and motivational speaker in the USA. Recently, he authored Power Thoughts for Coaching Basketball, a multi-purpose book designed for basketball coaches. He also produces Motivational Moments, a weekly email newsletter.