STOP DUCKING SMOKE!
“The ultimate measure of a man is not where he stands in times of comfort and convenience, but where he stands at times of challenge and controversy.” - Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.
83 to 51. That was the score of our most recent game against The Burlington School, a game in which we traveled four hours down to the beautiful Rock Hill Sports and Events Center on a Tuesday evening to be handed a lopsided and seemingly, regrettable loss. We were able to battle for the first quarter and half (at one point cutting the game to 21-19 midway through the second quarter), but the last two and a half quarters exposed many of our weaknesses. While I will be the first to admit that, as a coach, I am not a fun person to be around immediately following a loss of this magnitude, I have grown in my (few) years in this profession at taking a step back, observing film, and appreciating games like these for what they are...lessons. This instance against TBS is one of many over the past three seasons in which I have come to appreciate the value of competition, or “smoke.” In lamest terms, “smoke” refers to a team’s desire to play the best competition available, regardless of outcome. By “ducking smoke” as a coach or program, I believe that you are doing an extreme disservice to your players, coaches, and community, which in many cases leads to under performing and preventing your team from reaching their full potential. But, why wouldn’t people want to play the best the state has to offer? In my opinion there are many reasons, and fear of losing is right at the top. By losing games as a coach or player, you are fully vulnerable to the outside world, especially in the age of social media. Your decisions are scrutinized, your intentions criticized, as losses magnify gaps and force you to embrace discomfort. However, what I would challenge more coaches and programs to do is think critically about the bigger picture of the game, to develop young men and young women into future leaders. Does taking an easier path accomplish this? To me, that would be a resounding no.
Our teams over the past two years are perfect examples of this. We are a 1A public school that could use any excuse in the book (no gym, no weight room, less than 400 students in the school, etc.) to find teams we feel more confident playing. In both seasons we won a regular season conference championship, a conference tournament championship, and a 1A East Regional Championship, giving us the opportunity to play for a state title. But in 2018-2019 we emphasized a schedule where we knew our talent could carry us if we did what we were supposed to do. As a result, when the going got tough, we couldn’t get the job done, losing to Bishop McGuinness by 1 point in the state championship game.
Conversely, in 2019-2020 we had debatably the hardest out of conference schedule in the state, regardless of classification. We started the season 0-4 losing in blowout fashion to Piedmont Classical and Wesleyan Christian, while battling Moravian Prep and Greenfield down to the wire. People wrote us off after just four games! But deep down, keeping things in perspective, we knew what we were capable of. After losing at Greenfield by 1 point (our second one point loss against them that season) I vividly remember saying in our locker room “we are going to win a state championship,” and I meant EVERY WORD! When we defeated Independence HS at a showcase in Winston-Salem in early January, we knew what we were capable of, and the “smoke” was turning into straight fire. We went 26-10 on the year, and in the state playoffs averaged beating our opponents by a score of 79 to 48. Why? Because we didn’t duck smoke. Ultimately, seeking competition or colloquially wanting “all the smoke” is incredibly beneficial. It develops character and teaches players how to handle adversity, it shows that you care more about the growth of your team rather than your overall record, and (get this) it actually helps your team get BETTER and more UNITED. The teams that crave the competition across the state are building powerhouses and leaving others in the dust, and this trend isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. So, for the time being, we will learn from our most recent result and get closer as a group. While COVID has taken many elite competitions away from us this year such as games against Word of God (shout out to the 252/919 Showcase), Ravenscroft, and playing in the John Wall Invitational, we will continue to seek the best competition available so our players can be at their peak in the season when it matters most. To those we schedule, we appreciate the opportunity. To those still questioning the value, STOP DUCKING SMOKE!
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