The Fourth Quarter

Basketball JumpI spent last evening cheering on my former high school, and my nephew’s current, basketball team in a post-season tournament. They led throughout the first half of the game, but unfortunately the momentum changed a bit in the third quarter, and they just couldn’t quite pull it out at the end of the game. As is often the case, it all came down to the fourth quarter. They played hard, they never gave up, and when the buzzer sounded they ended up just short of their goal.

Those are the hard loses for a coach, or a leader . . . when early in the contest it looks like the win is within your grasp . . . and then something happens. Maybe someone else caught a lucky break or used a strategy you weren’t expecting. Maybe your team struggled or was just a bit off their game. Maybe the officials/oversight bodies suddenly started calling things differently . . .

Regardless of the unexpected variables that may come your way, it all comes down to the fourth quarter . . . when you’re tired and probably a bit out of breath . . . when you are trying to make adjustments and communicate with your team while running at full tilt . . . when you feel the pressure bearing down on you, and the roar of advice/encouragement/criticism “they” are shouting at you. It can be exhausting and exhilarating, and how you handle the pressure can determine the results of the game.

So how do you prepare for the fourth quarter?

It starts with the fundamentals. Can your team move the ball down the court? Have they practiced enough to anticipate what needs to happen and where they need to be at any given moment? Does the team support each other when one of them is being double-teamed?

You have to know the game plan. It is the job of the leader/coach to set the strategy based on a whole host of variables. What “starting line-up” is the best match for the task at hand? What should the pacing look like? How will you re-group if things aren’t going as planned?

It takes endurance to finish strong. How many times have you witnessed an effort that just simply ran out of steam? Things started strong and appeared to be going well, but over time became sluggish? Unexpected distractions took extra energy or a turn of events just took the wind out of your sails? Does your team have the reserves to dig deep to bring it home?

Of course, you can do all these things and sometimes the fourth quarter still doesn’t go your way, but in the words of famed basketball coach John Wooden, “A man who is afraid to risk failure seldom has to face success.” Start with the fundamentals, know the game plan, finish strong. . . then learn from the risks, and enjoy the rewards, of the fourth quarter.

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