Wednesday, November 26, 2008

Comebacks begin with positive energy

Rick Pitino has a new book out titled "Rebound Rules."

I've not read it yet (though I plan to over the holiday weekend), but found some excerpts online, including this one in which Coach Pitino describes how his UK team came back from a 31-point deficit at LSU in 1994:

"One thing you must do in the face of adversity is to be honest with yourself, and with the people you're trying to lead. Acknowledge the difficult spot you're in and commence digging out of it. Don't point fingers, don't recriminate, and don't make excuses. Stay positive and get to work.

The grand scheme at that very moment wasn't to emerge with a victory at night's end; looking that far ahead would have blurred our focus on the gradual progress that comprises every comeback.

The goal was to get within 20 points as quickly as possible. To do that, we concentrated on three things: using our press to create turnovers, fouling the two shaky free throw shooters LSU had on the floor, and getting high-percentage shots.

All three worked, and the turnaround actually happened faster than expected. In about five minutes of clock time, we'd shockingly chopped the deficit from 31 to 14. Our frantic style of play helped -- speeding up the game and increasing the possessions for both teams gave us more chances to rally.

Stubbornly, we kept whittling away at LSU's lead, as the celebrating crowd turned more and more nervous. Every timeout Tigers' coach Dale Brown called in an attempt to slow our momentum actually raised our spirits. We knew we had them rattled; we knew we had a chance.

Walter McCarty dropped in a three-point shot with 19 seconds left and we took the lead, 96-95, and went on to win 99-95. To this day, it remains the biggest comeback in college basketball history on the road.

The game quickly became known nationwide as the Mardi Gras Miracle. It was certainly memorable, but it was no miracle. It didn't take divine intervention to win that game; it took an unbreakable optimism, and a plan for coming back.

[Comebacks begin] with positive energy on the floor, on the bench, and in the team huddles.

They began with a belief that things would get better if we persevered through adversity, trusted each other and worked together.

They began with a conviction that consistent effort, even against long odds, inevitably would turn the tide. They began with a reliance on the fundamentals that made us a successful team to begin with, and we didn't desert them in a crisis.

They began with a single good play, and a certainty that one good play would lead to another and another and another until the deficit was gone and the game was won.

The most important thing I did in the course of those comebacks was to build my players' self- esteem. Don't tear them down for the mistakes that got the team in those holes to begin with; build them up to the point where they felt capable of making the plays that would result in victory.

There have been times when I've not been as positive with my teams during games. I have succumbed to the frustration of the moment and filled the huddle with negative energy, telling them, 'This is what you deserve because you practiced poorly.'

There certainly is a time for constructive criticism and even an outright tail chewing, but it's generally not when you're trying to rally people to redouble their efforts and perform at a higher level. That deprives your team of the hope that it can come back in adverse situations.

When it comes to team dynamics -- on a basketball court or in a corporate setting -- maintaining a positive atmosphere is crucial. Being relentlessly positive can be the only way to come back and defeat towering negativity.

Nobody goes through life without setbacks and struggles, some of them significant enough to cause you to doubt everything you believe in. You might be fired. You might face serious illness for you or your family. You might have a major financial setback, face an ethical dilemma, or find yourself starting over later in life. You might see a lifetime goal disintegrate, leaving you in a place you never imagined when plotting out your career path.

Will you have a gameplan in place to make your comeback?

You should, because the comeback is a classic American trait: We are a second-chance people. The story of the United States was not written by people who were handed everything. It was written by people reinventing their lives after encountering adversity -- by immigrants and cast-offs from foreign lands who took a leap of faith to make a new start in a new land.

After my job ended with the Celtics, I had to pull myself out of a crater by rediscovering what I call my PHD -- my passion, my hunger, and my drive. I had to quit beating up on myself and elevate the self-esteem that I always have tried to keep so high in my players. It was time for me to coach myself.

As difficult as it was going through those things, I've emerged as a wiser and happier person. I wouldn't wish some of those moments on anyone, but they've been learning experiences that will shape the later stages of my career and my life after basketball.

My perspective now is totally different. Basketball is my passion, but not my life. Helping my players, family members, and friends achieve happiness counts more than the final score of any game.

Being confronted with adversity -- in sports, in business, in any walk of life -- can happen more often than anyone wants to admit. It will test you in ways most of us have never contemplated. Having a plan to deal with it can make your comeback a great one."