Was It Just a Dream?

Somewhere between my eighth and 12th birthday, I would have this one particular reoccurring nightmare. In the nightmare, I would be asked to deliver a letter or a box to some unknown person. This delivery would be no easy task. Sometimes, I would have to travel by horseback over the mountains (when I was a kid, I wanted to grow up and be a cowboy). Sometimes, I had to walk to complete the delivery (I also thought a hobo’s life sounded pretty good). That why I dreamed of horses and hiking. This was a true nightmare and not just a strange dream. This was no ordinary delivery. To accomplish my mission, it would take 3-5 years. For someone 8-years-old, a five-year task seemed like a lifetime. The worst part of the nightmare came in the middle. I somehow had rode or walked to the halfway point of my journey when I would make a terrible discovery. I had left the letter (or box) at home. It would be two years to get back home to get the letter, then another five years to deliver it. I swear I wasn’t trying to make a delivery on Mars.

About the time I would make this horrible discovery and realize the consequences, I would wake up. Remember how it was when you were a kid and had experienced a nightmare? When you woke up, you had no idea where you were. I was sure that I was stuck in the middle of the Rocky Mountains with only an old hag of a horse or my two feet to get me home. When I grew up, I decided that being a cowboy probably wasn’t going to work. One of the only horses I ever rode threw me head over heals into a ditch filled with sewer water. I thought every horse was supposed to be as smart as Trigger, Roy Roger’s horse. As much as the thought of riding the rail as a hobo appealed to me, my parents thought an honest day’s work should be in my plans. That’s when coaching started to look like a great profession. The only thing I didn’t know was that every basketball season is like the nightmare of my childhood.

The basketball season just ended for my Bearcats. The season had its good moments and it’s not-so-good moments. Thank goodness I had great people on my team. Starting the year without a senior, I was very fearful of a season filled with near-misses. After last year’s 9-18 team, I wasn’t anxious for a repeat. The good news is after being picked to finished ninth in the MIAA, we finished fifth. We qualified for the MIAA Tournament in Kansas City after failing to do so in 2009. Then, we even pulled the only first-round upset, beating Pittsburg State, 75-71.

The bad news is we only won 14 of 29 games. I guess you could say we met expectations, since we did lack senior leadership. The truth is we didn’t have a single player that competed on the Municipal Auditorium floor with our 2008 MIAA championship team. Maybe we did a little better than meet expectations. However, this is college coaching and a 14-15 record is not acceptable. This season, as with every other of my 31 seasons as a head coach, is like that childhood nightmare. The journey is really long. When it ends, very seldom does it feel like we reached our destination. We always have to start over to get the package delivered the next year. Think of how it feels for the Chicago Cubs coaches, players and fans. They start every March with high expectations only to have October disappointments for more than 100 years. The only way I can describe how I feel this week, the first week after the season concluded, is to compare it to Christmas. You know the a let-down feeling that overtakes you when you realize the Christmas tree has to come down, the bright Christmas lights taken off the house and the gifts put away? That’s exactly how I feel now. The scouting reports have come to an end, the press luncheons no longer want my presence and any plans on how to get a jump on the competition has to be put on a shelf for about five months.

It’s time to look back and compare that let-down feeling to the childhood nightmare. The season begins the last Monday of August. It’s a simple week that’s filled with meetings, physicals, barbecues and getting to know your teammates both old and new. The real learning begins the next week after Labor Day. There are seven weeks of strength and conditioning, on-floor learning in small groups and getting to know your teammates.

That puts us past phase one of the season. In the nightmare, we still think the letter is in the saddle bag. Phase two begins with Midnight Madness. This night is a great time for college students. They can have late-night pizza and get a chance to win a few prizes. For the players and coaches, it’s just madness at midnight. Tomorrow is when the real work starts. Now, it’s another six weeks of work, but the work load intensifies. Two hour practices are run six days a week. The players are required to work in the weight room at least three times a week and the first serious grade checks are made. We still haven’t played a game 13 weeks into our journey. Now, it does seem like a nightmare.

Finally, Nov. 15 arrives and games can begin. A couple of tournaments or classics, a few regular season games and even a conference game of two and we are at Christmas. The basketball games sometimes take a backseat to the football, volleyball or soccer playoffs. However, its full steam ahead until suddenly everything must come to a halt for Christmas break.

I think that brings us to phase four – the conference schedule. Games get serious now. The scouting reports are longer, the tape editing time has doubled and recruit evaluation can not be overlooked. For the next nine weeks, you only take time to wash your socks. Like in the childhood nightmare, you are still sure your delivery is still on schedule.

March and the postseason arrive quickly, but not always quick enough. It’s on to the MIAA Tournament and maybe a spot in the NCAA Tournament. Every coach wants to go “dancing” in March. Phase five to the basketball season has arrived, along with warmer weather and deeper pot holes. When the journey began in the August heat, no one knew how or when our package would be delivered, just like in the nightmare. However, coaches know that delivery has to be made in March.

The problem is only one team per division gets to complete the delivery. Only one team ends their season with a victory. Every other team looks for the package they want to deliver for their school and suddenly becomes aware of a horrible fact – to complete delivery, we have to start over to try and deliver the championship package next year.

Try to remember all this if you run into me this week in the grocery store (I do most of the family’s grocery shopping). I probably won’t stop for much of a conversation this week. I am pretty grumpy. If you see me trying to get a little exercise, don’t think poorly of me if I fail to wave at you this week. Should you try to reach me after dark, I may not take your call. I will lay on my couch and pout pretty much all week. I now know I left the championship package behind and it’ll be a long wait until Monday, Aug. 30. Just like the Cubs, there’s always next year. Maybe in 2011, we can deliver that championship package to Bearcat Nation. Could it be the end of the nightmare?

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Gene Steinmeyer

About Gene Steinmeyer

Gene Steinmeyer coached the Northwest Missouri State women’s basketball team for 13 seasons before retiring after 26 years as a collegiate head coach after the 2011-12 season. He retired as the second winningest women’s basketball coach at Northwest as his 2010-11 team won both the MIAA Regular Season and Tournament Championship advancing to the NCAA National Semifinals one game shy of the national championship game.