Playoffs can force team from their status quo, and sometimes players are caught in the middle.
I started all year for our basketball team and we did pretty well. We made it into the section playoffs and won our first game — and then the coach told me I wouldn’t be starting the next game because he wanted to play a different defense. I didn’t think that was fair at all, and though I still played a lot, we lost. Why would he all of a sudden not start me in our most important game of the year? Was that fair?
R.D., San Jose
First, it probably wasn’t fair — but as has been pointed out a couple of times, life isn’t fair. Some people are 6-5 and some are 5-8; some people are quick and strong and others, like me, are slower and weaker.
What you have to look at, though, is the program as a whole, not just your own personal feelings. Obviously, you were a pretty good team if you won a section game, and the coach is at least competent, and most likely above average. He knows what he’s doing when he doesn’t start you at that point in the season, and how that’s going to feel for you, so obviously he has his reasons — and I’ll bet they start with matchups.
Though we’re talking basketball, matchups become more and more important in all sports once you get to postseason. Everyone has particular styles of play — in soccer, for example, some teams want to grind out a 1-0 win by packing the defense around the goal and hoping for a breakaway; other teams put their talent up top and look to get three goals a game.
In basketball, there are similar choices, but defensively, it’s probably man or zone, so that’s what I’ll talk about.
So a team goes through the season, and does pretty well playing, let’s say, a zone. When that team plays an opponent with strong three-point shooters, though, the zone isn’t the ideal defense — but it’s a long season, and a loss here or there isn’t a killer. The coach is trying to get the team to play as well as possible during the entire schedule, not just one game. This means that if your league only has one team that shoots threes really well, then playing the zone all the time will put you near or at the top of the standings and set you up for the playoffs with a good seed.
But in postseason, the equation shifts. Now you’re just playing one game that you have to win, and what if that opponent shoots threes really well? The coach knows that the zone is a bad defense against that team, and has to make a tough decision: Do I dance with the girl I brought to the dance (the zone), or do I give my team a better chance to win by changing things up?
Clearly, your coach opted to change things up and catch the other team off guard — but sadly, it didn’t work. (Of course, playing the other defense, with the regular starting lineup, might not have worked either. You just never know.) The person who got caught in the middle of that strategy shift was you, at least in terms of starting, but the playoffs are different, and difficult decisions must be made.
At one level, then, no, this wasn’t fair to you; but at another level, the coach felt his decision to shift defenses was better for the team, the program and fans because it gave you a better chance to win, and so to everyone else, it was fair.
Even if it turned out to be wrong.
Clay Kallam is an assistant athletic director and girls varsity basketball coach at Bentley High in Lafayette. To submit a question for Behind the Clipboard, email him at HYPERLINK “mailto:email@example.com” firstname.lastname@example.org
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