The 2016-17 boys basketball season was a particularly difficult one for the Bishop Chatard Trojans. The first win of the season did not occur until their thirteenth outing, and they would only win one more over their next eight. While they did manage to pull off back-to-back wins (including a sectional victory over New Palestine) before being eliminated from the playoffs, Coach Brian Shaughnessy knew his program needed a complete overhaul.
But where to start? Shaughnessy recognized the mirror was as good a place as any. Was he the type of coach he wanted to be? Was he inspiring his players? Was he producing the types of servant-leaders the school’s mission statement called for? After a long season of crushing defeats, he recognized the associated pressures were taking a toll on his style, focus, and effectiveness. He needed to change his focus as well as that of the program.
“One of the greatest lessons from last season for me was to not lose sight of why we do what we do, particularly keeping in mind the mission and goals of our school. Namely, regardless of the record at the end of the season…did we create a positive experience for our boys? I had to accept the fact that we didn’t. So then, I had to be honest about the hit that my demeanor and leadership took, and how that subsequently filtered down,” explained Shaughnessy.
He concluded the best way forward was to concentrate on building and re-establishing meaningful relationships. This effort needed to be made with everyone, from his coaches and players to the parents and school community.
He started by meeting with Bishop Chatard’s president and athletic director. Next, he met with his coaching staff. Each conversation started by taking a hard look at where the program was at and ended with a discussion about where they would like to see it go. These thoughts and ideas were further supplemented by individual meetings with each returning player about what could be done to make their experience more positive and rewarding. Shaughnessy also took the step of meeting with parents to gain their insights and hear their desires and expectations. Weekly “whole program” meetings were then held to begin fine-tuning and executing their collaborative plan for success.
“We needed to collectively establish our preferred culture, which meant taking a sincere look at what was not currently ‘right’ with it. We needed to cultivate and empower player-leaders in our program; so we had weekly team meetings on both of these topics, where the players gave a lot of input. It was important to me that they had a voice in this, so that they also had an increased stake in our development,” Shaughnessy recalled.
“The players actively contributed to the design of the new approach,” added Athletic Director Mike Ford. “They were also given more responsibilities, such as breaking down film and scouting opponents. This definitely gave them a sense of ownership.”
Another area of focus was on building goodwill with the community. The biggest component of this effort was the establishment of the #HoopTroop. The basketball team made it a point to show their support for all of their classmates throughout the fall. They attended the conference golf championship, cross country meets, soccer games, and tennis matches wearing their basketball gear and loudly supporting their fellow Trojans. It was noticed and appreciated.
“Everybody wants to be recognized and supported by their classmates for the hard work they are doing,” noted Ford. “It was great to see the basketball players out there cheering on all of our teams. They came to just about everything; it really did make a difference.”
Another benefit of the #HoopTroop was the bonding which occurred among the team members. Being together outside of the confines of practice allowed deeper relationships to begin growing organically.
“We needed to spend more time together,” Shaughnessy said. “A difficult season can isolate. We needed to build chemistry. We needed to love each other, look out for each other, and serve each other more.”
When the 2017-18 season opened, it was evident the hard work had paid off. The Trojans started the season with huge upset wins over Scecina Memorial and Heritage Christian. These were followed up by wins over Washington, Oldenburg, and Shortridge. The first two wins were each decided by one-point, and two of the other three were decided by four or less. They were learning how to play “winning basketball” when it mattered most.
With the early success, the accolades came pouring in. People in the Bishop Chatard community became excited about boys basketball for the first time in several years. Even the local media took notice and began hyping the Trojans.
“The first week of the season was like a tidal wave of momentum. We had to be considered underdogs in both of those (first two) games, and we played like we had something to prove. Throughout the 5-0 start, I think we started to hear voices affirming us, which is great, of course,” said Shaughnessy.
Things were looking up, but the coach knew January would provide a true measure of how far they still had to go. After defeating Covenant Christian on January 3, the Trojans owned a 7-3 record. While a vast improvement over the 0-9 mark they had carried at a similar point the season before, they were staring down a brutal few weeks of tough competition.
They went on to face each of their conference foes once, Northwest, and neighborhood rival Broad Ripple before the month’s end. The sledding proved rough, with the Trojans dropping all six contests. While the outcomes were less than desirable, they had been extremely competitive in half of those games.
“When you really peer more closely into our season, there have only been six games that were NOT tight in the fourth quarter (3 wins, 3 losses). The reality is that we could have dropped any one of those first five games, and could have won six of our nine losses if we were just a little better in the most critical junctures,” assessed Shaughnessy. “So…that remains the focus. If we want to be a ‘winning’ program, we have to continue to focus on what can give us the edge when it comes to ‘winning time.’ Mental toughness, composure, and execution will tell the story.”
As they have continued to battle through this adversity and prepare for the stretch run of the regular season, the team has also doubled-down on relationship building. Shaughnessy has recently instituted a new “Coffee with Coach” program where he meets with a different player every morning to discuss how he can support them, listen to their insights, or talk about anything and everything that is on their mind – basketball or otherwise.
“When a team is undefeated, it can often be naturally easier to accept and embrace a role, to be spirited and positive and selfless, for there to be less tension, than it may be in a 2-9 stretch,” Shaughnessy shared. “I believe it’s important, especially now, that we support each other, and communicate that we support each other.”
Keeping with the idea of empowering player-leaders, the coach has also instituted what he calls “support squads.” These small, all-player groups meet at the beginning of each week to discuss what they need from each other in terms of support and to refocus when things are not going smoothly.
“So, what’s of top concern or priority for me? That we continue to ‘have each other’s backs’ and gel through adversity in order to be peaking in February and March,” declared the coach.
Sitting at 7-9, the final five games will ultimately determine if the Trojans end the year with a winning record. The computer rankings would suggest they will be heavy favorites in two of those and a sizable underdog in another. The two remaining games would appear to be very much up for grabs.
Regardless of the outcomes, the true measure of this season will be (as Shaughnessy alluded to), “Did we create a positive experience for our boys?” Through modeling the behaviors of introspection, accountability, and service to others, it would be hard to believe the answer could be anything other than a resounding “Yes!”