By Pat Baldwin, Head men’s basketball coach, University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee
Things have been difficult for the Milwaukee Panthers over the past month or so. We had a tough five-game road trip and our team has been dealing with some adversity. It’s not the first time our players and coaches have had a rough stretch, and it won’t be the last.
Anyone who plays a sport at any level – and especially at the NCAA Division I level – is going to have to fight through adversity at some point, whether it’s a heartbreaking loss or an injury or a slump. With that experience come lessons that can help not only with basketball, but also other areas of life.
I can draw from some things in my past to help me, our coaches and our players get through this. As a sophomore at Leavenworth High School in Leavenworth, Kansas, I was the starting point guard. I was the youngest player on the varsity and, in our first league game, I played poorly. I put up a couple air balls, turned the ball over a bunch, and we lost the game.
Later, when we were watching film, I could hear someone in the crowd – a really good friend of mine – yelling, ‘Get Pat Baldwin out of there!’ That was tough. I don’t know if I ever lost confidence, but you’re second-guessing yourself. My coaching staff was really good in that situation, reassuring me that I was a good player. It’s just one game, they told me. There will be many more, and you’ll improve and get better, which I did.
Then, at Northwestern University, I faced the most challenging thing I’ve ever gone through athletically, because I wasn’t used to losing. My freshman year, we didn’t win a single Big Ten game. So, dealing with adversity and learning how to overcome it was something that was forced upon you.
Later, as an assistant coach under Chris Collins at my alma mater, we had to scrape our way up from the bottom of the barrel again. The first couple years were tough. We played Wisconsin when the Badgers had Sam Dekker and Frank Kaminsky, and the score at halftime was 40-14. But we helped our players develop Teflon skin and learn how to fight and overcome things, and in my fourth year as an assistant, we made it to the NCAA Tournament.
So, I’m not discouraged. Don’t get me wrong – I want to win. I want us to have all the success we can possibly have, but I’m not discouraged because I haven’t seen even one second of quit in our players.
The litmus test, after tough losses or a stretch like we’ve just gone through, is practice. I see our guys working extremely hard. Guys are texting me: “Coach, can I come in and watch film?” “Coach, can I get up some extra shots?” I look in their eyes and I can see the commitment. They’re 100 percent invested in the process and in each other.
That doesn’t mean it’s been easy. We talk all the time about the big picture, and for young adults, that’s sometimes hard to see. They’re impatient for success, and there’s nothing wrong with that. The thing we’re impressing on them is development, getting better, and that there’s a light at the end of the tunnel.
But we also stress the urgency of today. That’s the reason we work so hard. That’s the reason we do skill development every single day in practice. We’re working to get better.
We talk about hammering away at the rock. At some point, that rock is going to crack. And when it does, we are going to do some great things.
This article originally appeared in the Milwaukee Courier.