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January Challenges Coaches

by Steve Shields (UALR)

It’s rarely talked about and more often overlooked, but the month of January is a challenging month for all coaches. And it's almost here. Let's look at a month the presents many challenges.

The first month of the calendar year is always a key month. It marks the beginning of the conference season, where a slow start can be righted or two months of building confidence can be broken.

There is a lot of excitement when the season begins and the first two months of the every season produce pleasant surprises. But championships are not won in November and December.

And while they are not won in January either, the first month of the year can go a long ways to determining whether or not you are playing for a championship in March.

Kids are only human and the challenge of keeping them motivated through the first four to six weeks of the New Year is something that we all have to deal with.

January is like the abyss in that the early excitement, generated in November and December, has worn off and the excitement of conference tournament play is still almost two months away.

So how do you keep your players focused? That’s $100,000 question.

Confidence is a funny thing in that you can finish the non-league portion of your schedule with a stellar record, but that means nothing once conference season begins.

All you have accomplished through the first two months can be challenged if you begin the second season with a couple of losses. Suddenly you are in last place in your league standings and fighting an uphill battle.

As coaches, we try to keep our teams focused coming out of the Christmas break because January is a critical month.

Often you will hear a coach say, “we want to be playing our best basketball in late February and early March. That’s easier said than done.

If you are playing excellent in December, you don’t want to pull back the reigns with the idea of saving something for later in the season. It just doesn’t work that way.

You want to build confidence and cohesiveness. And if you are able to accomplish this in November and December than you are presented with the challenge of carrying that over into January.

Often the mindset of a young player will be that there are plenty of conference games so there is ample time to get on track. But that confidence takes a hit if you emerge 1-3 after your first four conference games.

But make no mistake about it; your team can be focused and still get off to a slow start in conference play, which creates another dilemma. And trying to address that would be the subject matter for another coach column.

The crucial term is consistency. As coaches, we hope that our teams do not have too many peaks and valleys. Trying to keep your team on an even keel following a one-sided win or devastating loss in not easy.

Kids are kids and they can be easily swayed.

As a group, they are never quite as good as they may think they are nor are they as bad as they may believe following a tough loss.

But try convincing them.

This is all magnified in January, a month when a good start “could” lay the foundation for a successful finish. And a couple of losses could break the spirit that took two months to build up.

Championships are not won in November or December. And there are no conference tournaments in January, but putting yourself in a position to play for your league title begins in the first month of the calendar year.

 

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