After Seattle University fell to 0-2 with a heartbreaking 50-47 loss to Concordia College last Saturday – the second home loss in as many nights to open the season– Coach Joan Bonvicini tweeted, “We are learning what it takes to compete. Now we need to play smart and have fun and the winning will take care of itself.”
Although tweets from coaches after consecutive losses could certainly be dismissed as nothing more than positive spin on a bad situation, Bonvicini’s tweet is not one of those absurdly optimistic spin jobs that attempts to frame a discouraging situation as a bright spot. There is a clear assessment of the situation as it currently stands and an articulation of what the team needs to do in order to improve their situation. It’s neither disparaging nor flowery, but an honest assessment of her 0-2 team.
Putting the tweet in the broader context of Bonvicini’s comments about her team throughout the young season, it reflects an understanding of what it takes to win rather than a relentless preoccupation with their record. Even with players out due to NCAA rules violations, it is clear what Bonvicini believes it takes to win: hard work and outhustling opponents on every play.
Most importantly, Bonvicini has been consistent in her message of what she expects from her players.
It reflects a communication style that defines successful coaches, parents, and teachers: establishing high expectations for performance and holding players accountable to that standard. It’s a communication style that tends to get the most out of people, inspiring them to do perform well and simultaneously encouraging them to reflect on what they can do to improve. Drawing on the wisdom of John Wooden, it’s what leadership expert John C. Maxwell describes as “keeping score differently” – focusing on the people, processes, and systems that get results instead of a myopic focus on the bottom line.
Heading into the Basketball Travelers Classic hosted by Purdue University this weekend, Bonvicini’s consistent message has helped the Redhawks develop an identity that even distant observers are able to recognize.
"Seattle doesn't have a full team but they play extremely hard," [Purdue coach Sharon] Versyp said. "They play hard for Joan; I have a lot of respect for her and what she's doing.
However, consistency is also important for players and as of right now Bonvicini’s consistent message has yet to translate into consistent performance on the court – they have yet to exhibit the hard work that has come to define them for an entire game. Despite their reputation as a hard-working, scrappy team, they have not been able to set the tone for a full 40 minutes yet.
“We’re disappointed, we need to regroup,” said Bonvicini after their loss to Concordia. “These are really good kids, they work hard, but we need to play hard for 40 minutes… I like our intensity on defense, but we need to do that for 40 minutes.”
“We need consistency. I think as a coach what I’m trying to see is who I can count on at different times.”
In both home losses last weekend, Seattle U went through long lulls and allowed UC Davis and Concordia College to mount leads that were insurmountable despite late game surges of confidence, intensity, and hard work.
As the undersized Redhawks face a talented field of opponents in West Lafayette -- a Purdue team ranked #23 in the latest ESPN/USA Today Poll, a University of Dayton team that has beaten one ranked team and threatened another, and an athletic, trapping Georgetown team -- consistency will be especially vital to a strong showing. However, the common thread among the field is that they all possess bigger post players, which Seattle U struggled with in their first two games.
The logical consequence of being an undersized team is that bigger teams will experience some success in the post.
It’s a challenge that 6’1” junior center Tatiana Heck embraces.
“I like playing against the bigger posts because I am small in height,” said Heck after the loss to Concordia. “But I got a bigger body so, I like to use my strength and bigger posts let me do that.”
Nevertheless, the bigger posts have given Seattle U problems thus far.
In their opening 71-49 loss to UC Davis, 6’2” center Paige Mintun was able to influence the game both in the paint and from the high post, on post-moves, drives, and threes, setting up scoring opportunities for herself and others. Against Concordia, it was lanky 6’4” center Ann Snodderly, who not only made a major contribution in the paint during a game-deciding run, but also managed to frustrate the Redhawks defensively with her long arms and defensive positioning.
Given the inevitable disadvantage that they will face in the post, the type of uneven effort they played with last weekend could result in a disappointing performance in West Lafayette, especially in a three-day tournament in which practice time will be minimal and fatigue is bound to set in.
While Bonvicini is publicly espousing a platform of patience, one of the frustrations with the uneven performances is that the team appears to get along well interpersonally off the court.
“I just know we have great chemistry off the court and we need to bring that here, on the court,” said Heck. “So we just need to pull it together in the whole 40 minutes. We can’t just keep coming back in these spurts like we do.”
Some coaches argue that early season road trips help a team come together both on the court and off the court. Hopefully, it helps Seattle U translate off court chemistry into what it takes to compete.
That is part of the challenge and fun of coaching any sport or teaching any subject – finding harmony between expectations and individual potential.
- Sophomore Maggie McCarthy has been the most statistically consistent player for the Redhawks so far, averaging 24 points and 13 rebounds after two games. However, there are times when she has been a little overaggressive.
“She attacks the basket a lot and she’s a good rebounder,” said Bonvicini. “I think she does good, I just want her under control at times. She’s a real scrappy player and she gives her all all the time.”
Consistency does not mean behaving the same way all the time. It actually means behaving the same way under similar circumstances. I believe in praising people, but I also know that if you praise them when they are performing well and also when they are performing poorly, you are sending them an inconsistent message...When you respond to your people in the same way under similar circumstances, you give them a valuable gift—the gift of predictability. There are many ways to inspire good performance but what maintains and improves it is responding consistently.