“Sorry sir, your room is in another section of the building, you have to come down to the reception floor and go to the 4th floor from here for breakfast”, the voice on the phone sounded cordial, but I thought there was a tinge of “haven’t I told you this last night when you checked in?”. IBIS Schipol was a busy hotel close to the Amsterdam airport and buzzing with life – “what in the world are all these people up to away from home and keeping this place alive!”, I thought. But hey “must be the same as your situation, 50% could just be hopping on and off for a night”, I told myself and felt intelligent about connecting a number to my hypothesis.
“Take that escalator all the way up sir to the 4th floor, we serve breakfast from 4 am in the morning until noon, so you are not early”, came the cheerful response to one of the well dressed attendants at the reception. I could quickly glance at the other three hooked to their phones with a broad smile on their face as they answered their guests.
“Anyway…”, I rushed to the 4th floor taking over some of the slow moving people on their way to breakfast, “come on! Don’t you have a meeting to attend or something urgent to do, how can you be so slow early in the morning”.
As I took one turn after the other on the escalator reaching up to the fourth floor, I heard the person at the entrance ask a guy that was ahead of me “room number and room key sir”. It was my time to feel silly, I couldn’t remember my room number! Well let’s be brave or risk losing the hotel shuttle 30 mins from now! “Sorry, I don’t remember my room name it’s 32 something 4, can you search me by my name?”, I tried to peep into her paper list as she carefully scanned through long pages one at a time before giving up. She spoke with a raised eyebrow, “sir there are other guests waiting, I hope you have paid for the breakfast in your package?”. “What! Yes of course ma’am!”, I looked sideways as if to gain support from my ‘other guests’, with my body language screaming out “do I look like I would cheat for breakfast!”. After a brief gaze, she let out a smile and said, “it’s ok sir, enjoy the breakfast and I hope you have a great day”.
It was a long room with two parallel tables filled with “a lot to eat!”. “Let me start on this side and survey all that I could eat”. But it wasn’t an easy tread as there were kids dressed up in some kind of a sports uniform, about to hit a game right after. Each one taking their time carefully digging out Nutella, marmalade and other jams – “as if this is their chance to have a go at them without anyone watching”.
I slowly made my way around the tables carefully decorated with a great assortment of breakfast items, filling up my plate amidst the chatter of the kids on either side and a cheerful attendant manning the tables, “ensuring that law prevailed at all times and no one misses an item that they like”, very efficient I thought. With my quest for breakfast complete, announced by my heavy tray, I still picked up a couple of glasses of fresh orange juice before I comfortably settled down at a nearest table, “look at this stuff, who is the kid now?”, came an inner voice.
“I have my reflections on the game Sara and they are not all bad, don’t worry”, came a rough voice from an adjacent table. By the looks of it, I related it to a middle aged man with a heavy build, occupying almost two chairs on one side of the table and addressing a lady and another young guy both dressed in the same sports uniform as the kids. “We were so close coach, we lost in the last few minutes”, said Sara. “By one point”, said the guy sitting next to Sara. “Yeah! the team was so busy playing, with each player focusing on the moves but not playing together”, said Coach, “except for Jenny”, he added.
Two kids crossed this table and greeted their coaches as they carried their breakfast tray looking for a table to sit. “Jenny is not the most skillful player of all, but the way she played – she played with a lot of heart! She doesn’t show tiredness, keeps encouraging hear team mates and gives more than 100%. You should encourage this trait in the other kids without judging any of them”, said Coach. “I was expecting Peter to score some more points than he did, he showed so much promise in practice games”, said the other guy. “That’s the thing Johan, he was trying hard to score but not play with the rest. Either he was scoring or missing, it’s largely a team game the last time I checked, isn’t it?”, coughed Coach as he spoke gulping down whatever a deep slurp of coffee he could draw from his cup.
“Did you observe the team dynamics, not so long into the game, the team started working as a unit with Jenny as the main player, whereas with Pete it wasn’t seamless, no one was willing even to pass the ball to him even though he was close to receive the pass and score”, said Coach.
“Agree 70% of the points were influenced by Jenny and team working together. Like us, even the team was banking on Pete as the strongest player to score”, said Sara. “Which he is, each time he had the ball in his ‘zone’, his smashes were accurate and he scored”, added Coach, “but when he couldn’t do that he wasn’t being so effective with the rest of the team and they reciprocated”, he laughed.
“But don’t forget, these are kids we are talking about, and it is important that they enjoy the game, but also get some of these important aspects into their core playing culture”, he smiled. “I am pretty sure these observations are not just for the kids Coach”, said Johan winking at Sara. She nodded in reply.
“Tell them in the language that they can understand Sara and Johan – ‘be competitive but have fun’, and ‘practice passing the ball more than smashing it back’. Most times giving a nice volley to another player creates a better chance of scoring, doesn’t it?”, he smiled. “I remember from my training days, the practice started with using half the court practicing passes to each other before we started using the full court for a real game”.
“But isn’t winning important Coach? Some of them quickly lose motivation unless they win a few games”, asked Sara.
“Hmm, now I will give you perhaps an old fashioned reply that I received from my senior coach who trained me a while ago, it was…”, said Coach as he took a sip of coffee (this is the third filling from when I started following their conversation, I observed cheekily). “These kids come to you to discover the best of themselves via the sport Anders, winning or losing should aid that process of discovery, and that is your biggest job as a coach…”, he said and added, “Of course it applies to any other field…”
Sara rolled her eyes, “got to prepare for the next match”, she picked up her tray. “Not easy, but we gotta try – keep them together. Playing volley ball is learning as much playing with your team, as much as it is scoring against the opposing team, but you know that, don’t you?”, said Anders.
“Priceless I thought”, as I recollected the conversation summary on the way to office – “1. Busy playing but not playing with each other well, 2. Playing with a lot of heart & charging up others Vs display of skill (being the brightest in the lot) but not being a team player, 3. No matter the off-field strategy, the team organizes (plays around) itself around smaller cohesive units of players working well with each other, 4. Learning the right language to coach the team, without judging anyone, 5. Not losing focus on the ‘process of discovery’ (and the sport as well as the outcomes as a means to it)”.
As I focused my thoughts on the upcoming discussions in office themed around ‘ecosystem play’, I couldn’t help appreciating the relevance of points stated above and their applicability in the day to day interactions. And of course, I couldn’t help appreciating the series of events since morning and the kind staff at IBIS Schipol that timed my position at the breakfast table beside senior coach Anders and his junior coaches.