Anne Long has been in the business of coaching girls basketball for more than three decades. Not until the past two years had she used psychology to help create the kind of camaraderie that has her Spring Valley High team on the brink of back-to-back state championships.
"It's never too late to pick up new things," says Long, whose clubs at Union High won four state girls basketball titles in the late '80s. Before that, she coached Boiling Springs High to a volleyball title.
Long deflects the credit for her Spring Valley success, giving an assist to assistant coach Doretha Garland for introducing The Monday Meeting to her team.
By day, Garland is a second-grade teacher at Bridge Creek Elementary School in the Richland 2 school district. And, before the 2009 basketball season, she began to wonder whether some of the same motivational techniques used on 7- and 8-year-olds in the classroom might work with 15-, 16- and 17-year-olds on the basketball court.
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Garland is an advocate of the teachings of Roxann Kriete, the author of the book "The Morning Meeting," whose principles are the building of community and ownership in the classroom.
"At first, I laughed about it," Long said. "I thought: 'That's so elementary.'"
"Let's just try it," Long recalls Garland saying. "If you don't like it, we'll throw it out the door."
Now, The Monday Meeting is an integral part of the Spring Valley program.
The team convenes before practice, about 5 p.m., in a physical education classroom or, sometimes, in the school's commons area. One player is designated as the "greeter leader" and gets the meeting rolling by getting all her teammates to exchange handshakes or fist bumps.
One by one, each player stands and addresses the team about something that has happened in their lives during the previous week. Players often boast of exceptional work in the classroom. The team also learned a player had been involved in a minor fender bender over a weekend earlier in the season. Another player told about her grandmother's illness.
With each comment, the players respond in unison by snapping their fingers.
"Giving the kids a forum is a big issue for all of us because we think: 'Nobody listens to me,'" Garland says. "They just want their moment to shine."
Next, Garland presents the group activity of the day. Early in the season, Garland asked whether the team thought it was getting the most out of videotape sessions. Long had planted the idea because of her concern that videotape sessions had become more like a social hour.
By the end of the meeting, the team had designated one player to be in charge of the remote control, one to manage the audio-visual equipment, one to watch an opponent's offense, and another to focus on an opponent's defense.
"They solve the problem," Garland says. "It's sometimes a challenge for the coaches just to be quiet (in the meeting). . . . That's the whole gift that will be given to us. If we empower them, they will take more initiative not only in that meeting but also on the basketball court."
Before the start of the playoffs, Garland's group activity was to rid the team of negative vibes. She asked each player to write down anything negative about her game. Junior Jocelyn Lawrence says she wrote of her sulking on the court and inability to avoid foul trouble.
Each player read her notes aloud to the team. Then, one by one, they tore the notes and tossed them over their shoulders into a trash can. "Out with the old, in with the new," Long says of that day's activity.
"We make sure we all end on the same page," Lawrence says. "We have no drama. It helps eliminate any personal issues we have with each other because we've already talked about it. So anytime we get in the gym, we're ready to play basketball, we're ready to work."
Long says the meetings were particularly helpful at the beginning of last school year, when she took over a program with four starters who were new to the team and the school.
"It turned into a good thing. We experimented with it," Long says. "It brought a lot of togetherness and chemistry. We struggle with leadership with so many talented players. Who's going to step forward? Who's going to stand alone by themselves if they need to? With ownership in those team meetings, it helped develop that."
Two years later, Long has worked the team through a couple of early season injuries and into position to win another state championship. And, as much as Spring Valley has thrived on the talents of Savonia Bryan, Asia Dozier, Xylina McDaniel, Briana Robinson and Shaquita Walker, Long thinks The Monday Meeting has played a significant role, too.
As part of the group activity on Monday, each player stood and said what she could do to help Spring Valley win Friday's game. One said she needed to box out on every rebound. Another said she could not turn the ball over.
Should Spring Valley emerge victorious Friday, the players might want to point at Long to acknowledge her coaching ability and at Garland for her psychological mastery.
Then, they can snap their fingers in unison.