Tomorrow marks the opening of the 2015/2016 season for the Ryerson Men’s and Women’s basketball teams. Both teams face the University of Toronto in their season opener at the Mattamy Athletic Centre starting at 6 pm. with the women’s game followed by the men at 8 pm. So the last three months that I have spent with the team has been pre-season preparation for the games that really matter.
The pre-season has included two trips on back to back weekends. When you look at the schedule and imagine the challenges that players face with being away from home, the exhaustion that often comes with travel, how to keep on top of their school work and games played in close proximity – one wonders why they should be put through this or choose to put themselves through this. It wasn’t until hearing the coaches explanation for the very deliberate design of these trips in order to teach lessons, and to give us experiences that are coming up in the season, that I understood fully.
Our first trip was to BC (see previous post for pictures). We flew there Wednesday night and the team played a game in Vancouver on Thursday, in Langley on Friday and in Victoria on Sunday. Three games in 4 days is hard and it is not what they would normally do during the season.
The coaching staff and this team have their sights on a national championship. When they appear at the National Championship tournament at the end of the season they will need to be able to play at their very best through multiple games in a short time frame…like three games in 4 days. They will also have to do this away from home, living out of hotels, eating at restaurants or in the gym, etc. This trip gave us all a taste of the challenges we will face at the end of the season, on the road to achieving our goal.
This past weekend we travelled by van to play two games at two different small private universities in rural Pennsylvania. We left the Mattamy Athletic Centre at 7 am. on Friday morning and drove about 7 hours to Seton Hill University where the team got out of the van, changed, warmed up and played a game at 4 pm. After the game we drove to the hotel, checked in, had dinner and went to bed.
On Saturday we met in the lobby at 7 am. checked out, had breakfast, and drove about 2 hours to St. Francis University to play at 11 am. The lesson for this trip was to understand the experience of having to be prepared to get out of a bus or van after many hours of travel and immediately play at a competitive level. In a few weeks our team has to do just that…we will travel by bus to the University of Windsor and play a team that has won 5 national championships. One rest day later the team will have to travel to London to play Western.
These trips helped us experience some of the challenging aspects of the season ahead of us.
I have some other observations/experiences that I take away from these recent trips.
I am too old for this.
On Saturday in BC we had an “amazing race” type team building activity involving a sort of photo/video scavenger hunt. We were put in teams of 4 and were let loose of the streets of Vancouver to take pictures and videos doing very specific activities at very specific locations. Some examples – get a video of all team members dancing under the big rings at English Bay (Really Big Rings) – get a photo of all team members sitting on tandem bikes wearing bike helmets – get a video of the team members and staff at the fish market at Granville Island singing O Canada – etc. etc. Of course the teams first inclination was to run from location to location but my poor team had me, who could not keep up with their pace. While we left the hotel in first place after constructing two puzzles, we returned after a couple of other teams had already finished. I tried my best and tried to put my fears of appearing foolish aside. In the end I had fun with my teammates…Kenny, Cara and Tash and I love this picture of us from the race.
They have *how* many students?
The two schools in Pennsylvania had big gyms, one of them with much more seating than our gym at Ryerson. As we sat in the locker room and wondered about the size of the school that we were visiting I looked up some info on my phone. The first school had an enrollment of about 2100 students and the one with the larger gym had an enrollment of about 2400 students. This is compared to our over 30,000 students at Ryerson. There is so much I could say here but I will only say that it was a very interesting display of the role that athletics plays in US institutions and how different the culture is on this front in Canada.
Good game Coach.
These trips represent my first experience being part of an “away” game…previous to this I have sat on the bench in our gym only where most people working in athletics know who I am and why I am with the team in this capacity. I have a bit of self-consciousness about being on display, about standing on the sidelines clapping during pre-game warm ups, about sitting on the bench. Despite my desire to just blend in, I need to accept that people will see this older, rounder person on the bench, in the team huddles, etc. What will they think? What will be the story that they create in their minds to explain my presence?
I had a bit of a taste of this in Pennsylvania. At Seton Hill when I was walking with the team to the locker room after we arrived, the person who was showing us the way looked at me and said, “Coach Clark?” I said no and pointed her out to him so they could connect. The next day at St. Francis University, after the game, I went through the line to shake hands with the other team and when I shook hands with one of the St. Francis coaching staff, she said “Good game Coach”.
So some people assume that I must be part of the coaching staff because that is the only thing that makes sense to them when they see me…I guess I can live with that. I just hope no one asks me any questions about the detailed mechanics of the game or our offensive and defensive strategy or I will have some explaining to do.