Saturday, September 10, 2011

Chapter 3: The Onset of Politics

"This is beginning to feel like the bolt busted loose from the lever." ~Tunde Adebimpe

Some of the team really wanted to have team meeting after regionals and it was set for the following weekend at our practice space. We had a decent turnout from the skaters and the first portion of the meeting was generally productive in my opinion. We talked about what the blockers may have done incorrectly and how to fix that along with a number of other relevant topics about our underachievement from the weekend before. It was a healthy dialogue and then the mood started to change around halfway through. Jane clearly steered the discussion to a different place.

Skaters began to talk about how the tension had affected them and how they didn't have a lot of confidence in each other the prior weekend. I added a comment along those same lines. Something to the effect that I had our jammer call off the second to last jam against BAD at 0-0 because based on how the rest of the bout had gone, I didn't have faith that we would have outplayed BAD in that jam. Something that was brutally obvious to anyone watching and part of my job as a real coach is to do what needs to be done to win.

This comment was taken by Jane and twisted to mean I had no faith in the team and that certain skaters could feel that. She would in fact reference how shitty what I said was over the last hour in her manipulative, backhanded comment sort of way. I was very unhappy that she would take things like that, but I also didn't feel that was the time or place to ask her to stop being a douche either as I wanted the team to feel free to express themselves without anyone becoming defensive. Later, I would realize that this decision was a mistake. I also listened to former captain B (who will be referred to as Alexandra going forward) and Jane say how my "screaming" at them on the bench the previous weekend wasn't helping them perform. This was an interesting take. I'm not known for screaming at my players (a referee or three yes) and the situation they were referring to was obviously when they butchered a jam and as they came off the track, I told them that wasn't good enough. I was never out-of-control of my emotions that weekend, even though I had plenty of reasons to just blow up. Rather than just accepting their play was poor, they introduced some irrational emotions into the discussion so that I could be their fall guy, the scapegoat for their own inadequacies. The most priceless part of this piece is my one-on-one discussion with Jane a few days later. While she had so casually sold me out in front of the team a few days before, she quite hypocritically tells me about how her teammates in other sports would say things to each other like "What the fuck are you doing out there?" and how that was an acceptable way to talk to each other on the bench in a team sport. That's one of two things in my book; either simple-minded hypocrisy or more likely, intentionally manipulating the different situations for a desired effect. Make it emotional in front of the team and then play it off in private to that person.

Jane also decided to throw out an uneducated remark about how nobody liked our team because of myself and the former captains. I don't believe being liked by your opponents is remotely necessary in a competitive, physical sport. I actually think that's a sign of mental weakness to want to be liked by your opponents. I'd much rather be hated and respected then to be loved and get no respect.

The meeting ended on a similar scapegoating discussion as well. Shortly after the above words finished, we somehow ended up discussing how I could give a skater a look as they came off track and it would make or break how they played that game. Seriously? While I don't doubt that was a true statement for some people, it's unfair to me and it also allows skaters to blame their issues on me and how they interpret my looks during a bout. Irregardless of how fair that is, that's not something I should have dropped on my shoulders right after two tough losses. The beginning of the cowardice to follow has its roots in this discussion. To say that my look could be the reason why someone wasn't playing well is a sign of human weakness if true; if false, it's a sign of the human condition, a condition that can't be accountable for one's own performance on track.

I told people that kind of control wasn't something they should give to anyone else, myself included. I also had to repeatedly tell skaters that I can't go out on the track to do anything for them. That's not my role; that is a captains' role to lead by example on track. And when your captains say don't go for the big hits and play together and then go out and consistently do the exact opposite, then they are leading by example, like it or not. But a coach can't do anything more than try to focus the team during timeouts and halftimes and get them to execute like they know how. That's all a coach can do; it's ultimately up to the players to change how they're playing.

Now I must ask the obvious question: Where have your captains been all year when this has been going down? I was supposed to create the new drills, run practice, organize the bulk of the travel, research our travel stipends, poll the team about potential opponents as I was the main interleague bout scheduler, run the bench during the bout, (exclusively) control my emotions because my intensity showing through apparently makes people wet themselves, worry about the bout warm-up, sit down with new skaters after their first MHC practice to introduct them to what the team is about and what the culture is like, constantly reach out to skaters so that maybe skaters would know they could approach one member of leadership, to motivate people at all times, and also to lead by example in bouts. So yeah, what the fuck did your captains do again?

Oh my bad. They were worried about winning afterparties, not bouts, and taking more pride in their ridiculous afterparty MVP status than in their own skating. They were mandating glitter parties for their new helmets and wasting all their energy on that rather than leading their team in practice and in bouts. They were spending 10 days in another country barely on skates, contributing very little positive to the wonderful league that hosted us. They were cold and unfriendly to the majority of that league and walked around like primadonnas that deserved something just by being there. What an eye-opener this was into what our former captains had allowed themselves to become. They were often the last ones to hit the track at practice and they missed a number of practices during our build-up to regionals. They were unconcerned about who I benched in all the prior years' bouts until one of them got benched for her terrible, uninspired play. They were leading by example at regionals by going for big hits and missing over and over again. Or bouncing off jammers and giving up. Or leaving their rear pair partner hung out to dry by going to the front, getting pushed out-of-play too easily, and then taking forever to return to the pack. They were inseparable and their own clique; the team knew it and insted of holding them accountable when we were winning, the team just didn't approach them.

I mean why would your captains need to be accountable for their decisions and actions? They're just your elected leadership. That's beyond foolish. It's much easier to let the coach own that too. If my captains can't live up to my expectations, then it's not their fault. It's someone else's to own. Typical.

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