Why the Struggle Matters

By Ben York, PhoenixMercury.com
Posted: July 18, 2013

While it may seem simplistic, the continual battle of overcoming struggles (by any definition) during the course of a WNBA season is not only therapeutic, but rooted in truth.

Indeed, the same is true in all aspects of life.

Encountering difficult times and facing them head-on is one of the most vital shared character traits that separate a championship team from just a collection of players.

For the Mercury this season, that scenario has already played itself out multiple times.

After so much hype heading into their 2013 campaign, the team started uncharacteristically slow with an 0-3 record. They then responded beautifully by winning eight of their next nine games. Currently while playing with a short-handed squad, they’ve dropped three in a row to fall into third place in the Western Conference.

There’s no sugarcoating it; the Mercury hasn’t quite played up to par of late. Teams have taken advantage of Phoenix’s lack of size in the paint with Brittney Griner and Lynetta Kizer out, and turnovers have routinely plagued the Mercury each contest.

It sounds tired, but it’s absolutely true – it’s tough for both the fans and the team. Nobody likes losing. Perhaps more frustrating for the team, the product on the court isn’t indicative of how they look in practice.

Most fans, though, aren’t privy to the hours upon hours of work each player and coach puts in every day, week and month. It’s not as if they practice for an hour or two each day, then play a couple games per week – it’s far more complicated.

The team’s collective work ethic is real. Genuine. They’re not consciously going out of their way to boast about how hard they’re working every day.

So I will.

Being fortunate enough to interact with the team behind the scenes has given me access to see these organic moments. They happen all the time – doesn’t matter if the team is on a winning or losing streak.

I’ve seen Corey Gaines and his staff in their coaching office going over film in the early hours of the morning after a win (yes, a win) dozens of times over the years (and several times this season). I’ve randomly walked by the practice court early in the morning only to find multiple members of the team already there on an off day (they didn’t leave the arena until late in the evening).

I could go on and on.

Maybe these moments will pay off in the end. Maybe they won’t.

But the important part is they are happening.

Certainly, the Mercury understands the areas they need to improve in. But they also realize that fully implementing these changes won’t happen overnight. In professional sports, we often live for the immediacy of results but grapple for the patience of answers. Rather than paying more attention to the small details, it has become increasingly easier to zoom around the issue – which doesn’t effectively deal with the perceived problem.

That’s not what the Mercury’s philosophy is.

For example, before the Mercury departed to Los Angeles for their game Thursday on ESPN2 against the Sparks, Corey Gaines and his staff spent nearly two hours going over defensive assignments with the team. Each player was fully engaged, helping each other, providing positive feedback and encouraging various solutions.

Just as the team did before their last road trip, and the one prior, and the one before that…you get the idea.

Diana Taurasi has mentioned several times after difficult losses this season that their only option is to get back in the gym and work.

Her words are unassuming, but profound – and she lives them.

No season will be devoid of struggle or conflict. The key isn’t avoiding those times, but accepting them. Once that’s done, a solution inevitably presents itself.

Facing and working through conflicts and struggles make the reward at the end of the season (no matter what happens) so much sweeter. Obviously, the goal is always to win a WNBA Championship, but if each player can look at themselves in the mirror and know they did everything possible to prepare themselves for competition, that’s all that truly matters regardless of the outcome.

Still, there’s one fundamental thing I’ve learned about the Mercury…

Never count them out.