Countdown to bloom

3/11/2004 - Oklahoma Sooners

Editor's note: Oklahoma coach Sherri Coale will share a diary with ESPN.com throughout the season for the third consecutive year.

Jan. 26, 2004

My daughter crawled in my bed last night about 3 a.m. She said her head hurt and it woke her up and why didn't I come when she called for me. I think I kissed her forehead and mumbled something about sleeping four hours the night before. Then I faded back into never never land -- not to be confused with Michael Jackson's Ranch, but the place where Iowa State does not exist and my players never miss shots and we win all our blasted games.

Coaching in the Big 12 is a nightmare! Coaching in general is sometimes a nightmare, come to think of it. I just wish sometimes it was about setting screens and jumping to the ball and maneuvering Xs and Os around the floor. It's so not about that most of the time.

Don't get me wrong, that stuff is essential. Kids have to be taught fundamentals; they have to repeat movement and repeat movement and repeat movement to make it second nature. And putting players in the right places on the floor is very important. Unfortunately, all of that has to be bound together by the invisible glue of how everyone feels. And you never get that captured. It can't be defined or tamed or even corralled because it's ever changing. It's an inexact science that makes me tired. Nonetheless, how good teams actually become often depends on how good their minds will let them be. So as coaches we test and probe and try to get inside the head of our teams. When things don't go as planned, we search for why. There has to be a reason, doesn't there? I've decided that the answer might be "maybe not."

I assume coaching a team might be somewhat like working on a farm, though I have no experience there. You ready the soil, plant the seeds, water and feed and protect as crops grow, and there are all sorts of unpredictabilities along the way. Sometimes it rains too much, sometimes it doesn't rain enough. Sometimes diseases or bugs attack. Sometimes the crops arrive full and beautiful and plentiful, and sometimes they're gangly and sparse. Seems like there is always so much that you just can't control.

I know that firsthand in a microcosmic sort of way, from working in my own flower garden. One day my Japanese maples are full of bright, shiny red leaves and the next day they have anthracnose and their leaves are crispy fried and curled. It happens just like that. And there's not anything you can do about it.

The one thing you can always count on is that everything is never the same. A day makes a difference, as does a month, as does a season. No flower bed ever looks this year, just as it did last. One spring my coreopsis infiltrates just enough to accent every species in sight, and the next they so overrun their counterparts that my garden looks like a yellow blob. Getting it just right is such the challenge. And such the joy.

The daily manipulation can be maddening, but there are no shortcuts. Sometimes the tulips come early, sometimes the snapdragons stay late, and when you're lucky, the purple coneflowers reseed in all the right places! And sometimes, no matter what you do, the majestic irises bloom one day before the biggest thunderstorm of the season and the rapture you'd been counting on and caring for, for months, lay broken and wilted and done. It has been good for my controlling nature to learn to go with that flow. Sometimes good shooters go 2-for-20. Sometimes good players look like fifth graders. And sometimes, good teams lose games they know they should have won.

Sometimes, no matter how hard you search or how much easier it would be, there just is no reason why. Things just happen.

When I got up this morning, my daughter was still complaining about her head hurting. I asked her where it hurt and she pulled her hair up and pointed to a spot at the base of her skull, right at the top of her neck. I felt of it and immediately thought it felt like a bump. I felt the other side and my stomach did flips as my first and only thought was: a tumor.

I acted calm and waited until she went to brush her teeth before telling her dad about the "bump" (minus the hypothetical diagnosis of course). His reaction was just as I imagined it would be. A dead man would have shown more emotion. A bit later as I was brushing Chandler's hair, she winced and said her head was still hurting badly. I told her, just as her Dad was passing by, that I thought I might need to call the doctor. I said to him, "Her head is still hurting ..." knowing what my face looked like even though I didn't look in the mirror. And he replied, "I hate it when I get a crick in my neck from sleeping in a weird position. It will go away after a while, Chandy, you just have to wear it out." And I lost 50 pounds.

It never, not once, and I think of myself as a fairly intelligent individual, occurred to me that my daughter might have slept "funny"on her pillow. The thought never even passed through my mind until he said it. I was ready to schedule her for a CAT scan! Likewise, it never once, not even for a moment, occurred to her father that it might be a tumor. She left for school, I sat down on my bed, and I laughed until I cried. The mind is a fabulous, dangerous tool that can twist the truth and make a purgatory of any one moment in time.

So, I'm not surprised when players who've missed shots build up monsters in their minds that eclipse the basket and rob them of their basketball self esteem. I know how easily it can happen. And I know from the varying thought processes living under my roof that we each see and feel with a unique heart. That's what makes coaching both a nightmare and a simultaneous fantasy ride. A "how-to" book does not exist, but if it did, "Massive Patience Required" would be the subtitle. My garden helps with that. I once read that "you can't hurry the farm." Things bloom when they're ready. I'm thinking, perhaps, teams do, too.

For more on coach Coale and the Sooners, visit Oklahoma's official athletic site.