I have a serious bone to pick with the concept of the team meeting. Maybe it is my tendency to view everything through the most bitter lens possible, but I believe they serve no purpose. They are only called when things are going bad. Everyone knows things are going bad. The problems with bad teams usually run deep, and a 45 minute meeting is not going to be enough to change the tide. Call me pessimistic, but that has been my experience.
I have been on some bad teams, but maybe none more dysfunctional than my team last year. The Calabasas Coyotes circa 2002 had some serious head cases, but that is too long ago for the memories to stick out. I also had some classic team meetings in college, but I’ll have to really think about those details before I write about them. So we are sticking with Haifa for now.
Said Haifa team had just gotten absolutely crushed by Jerusalem at home. This is when people still had hope for the season. I figured this was rock bottom, but I was very, very wrong. It is like how people call the bottom of a stock market crash and invest more money, only to be stuck catching falling knives as the prices continue to plummet. I feel like our team caught a lot of falling knives. This loss resulted in the first team meeting of the season.
It was one of the dreaded “players only” meetings. These are the ones that become a forum for the prominent players on the team to repeat things they heard coaches say in sports movies. Common clichés bandied about are “We just can’t accept this!” and “We can only do this if we all sacrifice and work together!” Then the players who rest on defense and take all the shots tell everyone else that they need to step up on D and share the ball more. Everyone (or just me?) leaves feeling like they just wasted an hour of their life, but at least this meeting was born purely from player frustration. That makes the players only meeting the least nauseating of the team meeting scenarios. Sometimes these meetings can even get the team to focus a little better. They can also devolve into people cracking jokes and making light of the situation, and I think this can be a valuable weapon at times. Playing carefree is hard to do when the coaches have made something you love to do into a chore. But, trying to come out of a slump by being a little more light-hearted is not the way preferred by the coaches. Generally they will do anything in their power to squash this newfound sense of well-being.
According to a lot of coaches, the only way to come out of a slump is to grimace through 3 hour practices, 2 hour lifts and hour film sessions. They sort of want to beat the bad out of you. I find it to be very self-defeating. If your team absolutely dreads showing up to practice then you are doing something wrong.
Players only meetings are unbearable, but meetings that involve the coaching staff as well are their own brand of terrible. One particular meeting last year began with the coach saying that we needed to tell each other what we were doing that was making us suck so bad. He wanted us to look in the eyes of a teammate and say what they should be doing better. Obviously, no one volunteered to do this. One of the veterans must have felt brave, because he announced that he would be the first victim. Anyone could tell him anything they wanted. He would sit there and take it. Or so he said.
No one was willing to say anything. That is when the coach stepped in. He told this guy that he was not playing up to his potential. In so many words the coach told him that he would be in the Euroleague if he wasn’t such a pussy. True to his word, the player sat there and nodded. But of course right after the meeting ended he was bashing the coach for having the audacity to call him out. No one truly wants to take, and learn from, criticism that comes out of a team meeting. Especially when people are convinced that the coach is half the problem.
Later on in the year, we had a meeting (sensing a pattern of dysfunction?) where one of the assistants, the one who could speak the least english, literally yelled for 30 minutes straight. I could not believe what I was witnessing. It was like listening to a bizzaro, half english, motivational book written by a foreign Dr. Seuss. He only used about 30 separate words. We heard a lot of “heart!” “hustle!” and “together!” He kept asking one guy why he loved basketball, and when he wouldn’t get a sufficient answer the coach would exclaim “it’s because you started playing in the streets! As a little boy! THE PASSION!” He never actually confirmed that this guy used to love playing in the streets growing up. What if he was one of those late bloomers who didn’t start playing basketball until high school? It was actually kind of motivating because you could tell the guy cared so much, but 30 minutes is just too long.
Another funny meeting came with about 3 games to go before we would be mathematically eliminated from the playoffs. One of the owners had us come into the video room after practice. Then, bringing metaphors to life, he literally made us line up side by side with our backs against the wall. He then ordered us all to hold hands. So the owner was now staring at 12 tired, disgruntled dudes, most of whom had some kind of vendetta against one another. They are leaning on a wall and holding hands in the most begrudging manner possible. No one is quite sure whether to just kind of rest their palms on one another or to actually grip the hand.
I get what the guy was trying to go for, but he could not have put us in a position that made us less interested in what he had to say. He seemed really pleased with himself for the whole “back against the wall” thing, but other than that I don’t even remember a word he said. Probably something about fighting for the man next to you.
Although I was mute for the majority of these meetings last year, there was one unfortunate time where I decided to say something. It was in a hotel, somewhere in Eastern Europe, after getting blown out. The same owner who made us stand up against the wall called us into one of the conference rooms. He said that he wanted to hear our opinions on the entire organization, including the coaches. Everything would stay between us and the management. I was wary of saying anything about the coaches, but I thought this was the perfect time to call out how much I disliked some of the support staff. There were a couple of people, but one guy in particular, who were in charge of setting up and taking down the baskets. They absolutely loathed when people decided to stick around and shoot after practice. They would rush you off and demand to know why you had nothing better to do than sit in the gym and shoot on a Friday afternoon.
I expressed these concerns to the owner. I thought our very low shooting percentages might have something to do with the fact that it was difficult to get extra work in. I wasn’t expecting anything to change, but it felt good speak my mind.
The next day at practice everyone points at me when I come into the locker room and starts going “Ohhhh, Uri is pissed at you!” Uri was the guy who worked for the team that I thought was particularly lazy. So of course I started trying to figure out who told on me. Everyone denied being the snitch. And, as I later learned, they were telling the truth. Uri had left his iPhone behind the TV in the conference room and recorded the meeting. He then listened to it, heard me badmouth his work, and proceeded to hold a grudge against me for the rest of the year. The crazy thing is that when I brought up Uri’s shortcomings during the meeting the other players agreed with me! They all said they wanted more opportunities to shoot after practice! I guess Uri chose to ignore all that because he is a fat, bald 40-year-old who tries to hang out with the Americans all the time. He couldn’t risk being mad at them too, because that could compromise his ability to skip the line when going to a club.
Uri was the guy you were supposed to call if you were having any sort of trouble off the court, like if something was broken in your aprtment, or you needed help at the bank. It is nice when this person at least pretends to like you. It can be a pain in the ass when he actively despises you because he freaking watergated your supposedly private team meeting.
Not long after the meeting, I locked myself out of my car. I had heard of this happening to teammates, and Uri took care of everything for them. When it happened to me it was a whole different story. I called him, and he proceeded to tell me the number of the rental car company. I could have read that off the side of the car. That was not my concern. I was worried that no one would speak good English and it would be impossible to get the help I needed. Uri steadfastly refused to do anything, and I was left to bounce around from representative to representative until I finally convinced someone to send a guy out to let me in. I am convinced a Hebrew speaking person who represented the team could have done this much faster. Suffice it to say, Uri and I never got along for the rest of the year.
Basically, unless you are the highest paid player and have all the power, it is best to not say anything during a team meeting. If you do want to speak, just know that it almost certainly will not affect any change, and you run the risk of being spied on by a disgruntled team employee.