Category: Coach Jim’s Report

Coach Jim's Report

Coach Jim’s Report: Mystics U14 at Junior Final Fours

During our first meeting at Belle Vue for the week-end get together, I stressed the need for it to be an enjoyable experience. Players perform better when they enjoy themselves and this was an occasion relatively few across the board are good enough to be involved in. Looking back now, being a group who are as obedient as a highly trained sheep dog, that’s exactly what all 15 of Mystics U14 1 did.

Having performed admirably all season, M1 (the team, not the motorway), we now faced the daunting task of competing with the cream of the south (sounds like a Scottish football team) in the form of Kingston Lions and then, possibly, Milton Keynes (Leg) Breakers. Would these two highly reputable teams rise to the top or curdle?

Fortunately, I was in possession of a lot of very useful information on Kingston from a close coaching friend. This had the potential to see us into another final if I composed an effective game plan. We went into the semi-final having prepared for their press, as well as having plans to nullify their talented left-handed guard and their rebounding potential. On first sight, it was immediately apparent they had a long line (literally) of tall players. I could either ask some of our team to play on stilts or ask them all to jump higher. As the stats show, we opted for the latter to win the battle of the boards 65-54.

For any young athlete, representing one’s club in a show piece event can be as nerve-racking as being forced to climb a mountain when you suffer from vertigo (which is not a star sign.) We were also playing on an unfamiliar court against one of the country’s top four sides. It was, therefore, understandable that we weren’t at our best in the initial stages. (To quote Winston Churchill, the man not the dog: ‘Only mediocre people are always at their best.’) Even so, we did enough to win the first quarter 21-14.

This helped calm the inevitable nerves of both players and parents. As when you are unfortunate enough to go on holiday to the very much mis-named Weston-super-Mare, I knew that better thing were on the horizon. They were. Similar to how a friend of mine takes his coffee, two dashes, one of 11-3 and one of 10-5, afforded us with a comfortable 20 point half-time lead.

I now had scope to be even more liberal with my substitutions and give our starters (3 of whom had rushed over having represented our u16s) a prolonged rest. To their great credit, those off the bench, as opposed to on the bench would would make them lawyers, played well enough and hard enough to extend our lead further. With the lead now a massive 32 points, I had scope to ensure that all 12 players had sufficient time to have an impact. As expected, with Kingston still playing the majority of their starters, including the excellent #33 who now cashed in big time, the lead was reduced down to 25 to leave us with an impressive 89-64 victory.

Predictably, Milton Keynes Breakers had broken down Sheffield to win the other semi-final. James and I (I, not myself!) had watched the game intently and had taken notes from which to formulate our game plan for the Final. It was evident we had to find ways to break their relentless, merciless full court press which had terrorised greater numbers than the Kray twins. They were generally considered to be firm favourites to be crowned as the 2023-24 National Champions by anyone who was unaware of how determined we all were for this not to happen. Our resolve was hardened further by the way they needlessly crushed our u14 II in the quarter final in April. Someone’s unbeaten record had to go. I had to devise a way for it to be theirs, not ours.

Our press break , although simple, worked a treat for all but the last couple of minutes. Their 2 guards had scored 27 points apiece in the semi by driving hard right in a straight line. Our plan to make them go left. In the event, this restricted both unbelievably well until tiredness set in during the last quarter.

In what was all set to be a titanic struggle, the question was who was it that would sink? There were no clues in the first quarter which had three lead changes. The first five minutes was owned by Mojan. For me, she is the best player for her age in the country and she certainly looked like it in the opening skirmishes. We led 12-10. Mojan scored 10 of those, shooting 5 from 7 two pointers. Milton Keynes subsequently did all they could to triple team her in and around the key so that all we could muster for the next five minute were an impressive 5/6 free throws from Anya and Mojan who had to sit out the last three minutes due to being called for two fouls. The second of these was when she was charged with a charge which, if I’d been in charge would have gone uncharged!

Two three pointers from our illustrious opponents, one of which thundered off the backboard with enough force to clean all of the dust on it, helped Milton Keynes (which could be a good name for a comedian?) steal the first quarter 17-18. I stressed the need for a positive start to the second period. More obedience from the girls manifested itself by way of a 13-4 five minute burst which was more explosive than the Gunpowder Plot. Akeala and Mya hit from medium range. More accurate free throws from William Tell and Robin Hood (aka Mojan and Anya) who were getting to the foul line regularly thanks to their positive drives to basket without any need for a chauffeur, plus phenomenal all-out effort from Tiana and cameo appearances from  two of our most improved players, Sophie O and Neeusha with an earlier one from Eniola, all contributed to a one point deficit turning into an 8 point advantage by half-time.

During the interval, I apologised to Lola, Alycia, Elsa and Adele for not being able to get them on court. There was no negative reaction from any of them and each one contributed by demonstrating what an awesome team spirit this team has from the bench. (The same can be said for the trio not involved- Sophie B, Fatima and Lola P.) They are all as responsible as anyone else for our successful season.)

Having effectively countered our opponents’ plan A, I full expected a change of approach from them. They would continue to press, despite it being as ineffective as my attempts to carry out any DIY task. ( For me, it’s Destroy It Yourself.) It came from two unexpected sources. Their # 9 and # 11 had featured as little as an extra in a block buster film in the semi-final and during the first half. To begin the third quarter, however, they became the star turns as their guards finally stopped trying to act as battering rams in vain attempts to smash their way through our excellent interior team defence. They now opted to pull up higher in the key and dish the ball to the weak side low post to score. And score they did, initially.

This prompted me to call a time out to offer up a solution which was acted upon to such good effect that it subsequently worked no better than a broken clock (which is only correct twice a day!) As a result, we increased our lead to 10 going into the crucial final stanza (which isn’t a variety of pizza.) Worryingly, we came out seemingly unprepared for the inevitable onslaught which was bound to be thrown at us. For a couple of minutes, it looked as though Breakers were firing rocket launchers at us while we were trying to respond by waving sparklers at them. Earlier than I would have liked, I called a time out after just three minutes to stop the bleeding.

A ten point lead had been whittled down to a dangerously close five. Understandably, the five players I’d felt the need to use almost exclusively against such challenging opponents, were experiencing a high degree of fatigue due to the enormous physical and mental effort they had put in. I asked each one if they needed to be rested in a ploy to get them to dig even deeper. Each of them declined the offer. I now requested that they go back on court and demonstrate that they had sufficient energy and ability to get the job done.

What a response. All five played out of their skins immediately after the lead had shrunk to 3. An almost super-human team effort, spurred on by fantastic support from the bench and our supporters, inspired an incredible 12-2 run which meant we went into the last 60 seconds 13 to the good. They scored to bring it down to 11 but I now let my heart rule my head by intending to get as many of the four players on court who had yet to appear at all. I brought two on. Then, through no fault of theirs, two quick baskets against us caused widespread panic in the crowd with one or two heart monitors doing overtime as we were now like a fizzy drink and 7 up. This obviously prevented me from bringing the  other two on but calm was instantly restored as Akeala, Mojan and Anya sealed the deal with late baskets to see us through 78-69.

Although we only trailed for 2 minutes 13 seconds in the whole encounter, a breakdown of just how tight each quarter was clearly demonstrates, unfortunately, how difficult it would have been to give all  12 Mystics reasonable court time. After the game and the wild celebrations which ensued, I apologised to the players and parents I failed to use in the game. They all appeared to accept this in good grace in the knowledge that our success wasn’t based on this one game. All 16 squad members are to be acknowledged and appreciated as having contributed in positive fashion.

Post-game, we then had an award I have never been a fan of and see little point to. Victories are achieved by teams, not one individual. We had 5 MVPs on the day and for it to be limited to just one player can be unnecessarily divisive and cause disagreement. All that really matters is that Manchester Mystics are the 2023-24 National Champions, not who should (or shouldn’t) be like David Beckham and have a golden ball. On the same tack, I have been fortunate enough to have 16 MVPs on our rosta. A huge thank you to them, their wonderfully cooperative parents for their unfailing support as well as to James and Louise over an unforgettable season. Congratulations team. You have achieved what we set out to accomplish. You are officially the best U14 girls team in England! 

best wishes


Coach Jim's Report

Coach Jim’s Report: Mystics U14 Play-off Quarter Final

Following our decisive victory over a spirited, well-coached opponent in the play-off quarter finals, I am disinclined to specifically give name checks to a number of players who undoubtedly deserve recognition for their outstanding performances as it is likely that spies from the south might gain insight. Suffice to say that it wasn’t Sussex Storm who gave such a thunderous display throughout the first quarter to render the contest all but over after only 10 minutes.

The impressive firepower contained within our five starters was there for all to see from the outset, despite one of them being so unwell that she looked paler than a bottle of milk! Our first quarter tall of 32 points constituted a massive 21 point lead. This rose to 31 by half-time, despite using all 12 Mystics in the second quarter (and subsequent 3rd and 4th).

The margin extended to 40 and it became clear that we could almost certainly have pushed it to many more using solely our stronger combinations of players. However, I have never been an advocate of relentlessly grinding less experienced teams into the ground by running up a cricket score. For me, it is far more productive all round to give all of one’s own players extended minutes to show their worth.

It mattered little that this enabled Sussex to close the gap enough to bring an air of respectability to the score line at 88-59. Our bench gained useful court time, which may stand them in good stead if we need to call on them at Final Fours on 4 and 5 May at Belle Vue. Our schedule for this climax to the season is as follows:

Saturday 4 May v the winners of Kingston Lions and Lancashire Spinners at either 12.00 or 4.00.

If we lose that, we play for 3rd or 4th place on Sunday 5 May at 12.15 but if we win on Saturday, we progress to the National Final at 4.45 where our opponents are expected to be Milton Keynes. 

Congratulations Mystics. You have done yourselves and the club proud. Sincere thanks to all our supporters but with one reservation from a grumpy old man. Whoever decided that banging drums for 40 minutes is helpful is, in my opinion, misguided. It causes two types of headache – one from the incessant noise and another because it makes in-time coaching impossible. The players are unable to hear advice or praise. If anyone feels the need to bash something at the Finals, please make it a triangle or a marshmallow!

Many thanks to James, Louise and Laura plus the excellent table officials.

Best wishes


Coach Jim's Report

Coach Jim’s Report: Mystics U14 at Sheffield Hatters

Following our comfortable victory over Conference side Stockport last Monday, we returned to the more competitive world of the Premier League to face our main rivals Sheffield Hatters. As we knew from the two previous contests against them, they are a strong, powerful, well-coached outfit who are ranked in the country’s top four at this level.

Without the blistering pace of Jane, the shooting prowess of Adele and the rebounding capability of Elsa, we needed to be at our best if we were to remain unbeaten. Sheffield is a city renowned for steel but on this occasion it was Manchester who showed its mettle!  Much of this was due to the make-up of our side which was as well-balanced as an expert tight-rope walker with all players on show capable of filling a variety of roles.

Despite the efforts of Sheffield’s excellent point guard and their size advantage, Mystics hard-working team defence and highly skilled offensive firepower enabled us to win all four quarters for a convincing 83-50 win. We now move on to the business end of the season with a home tie, on either 20 or 21 April, versus the team who finished fourth in the south, Sussex Storm. Will they be lightning quick or full of wind? I will endeavour to find out.

If we win that, next up will be either Kingston Lions or Lancashire Spinners on the first day of the Final Fours, 4 May. With 3 or 4 friendlies lined up in preparation, there remains plenty to play for, both for the team and individuals, as I finalise what I consider to be the most effective all-round combination of players likely to give us the best chance of success.

Thank you to my erudite assistant James, to all parents who gave lifts and their support as well as to Laura for standing in so seamlessly as team manager.

Just one training session, tonight at the Centre 5.30-7.30pm, before we all tuck in to our over-priced Easter eggs, after which we play Spinners away at 7.00pm on Thursday 4 April.

Coach Jim's Report

Coach Jim’s report: Mystics U14 at Mystics U14 2

Going into a local derby without 4 of your starting 5 could be either deemed as risky as rock climbing in flip flops or as generous as giving a small child £5 per tooth as the Tooth Fairy. The fact that all 10 Mystics u14 I’s stepped up in the game versus Mystics II proved that focus and effort can compensate for such apparent disadvantage.

We started as nervously as a soft-backed turtle swimming in shark invested water. This reduced the first quarter mainly to a shoot-out between the outstanding Akeala Daniel and the powerful E. Osifo. We shaded it 18-14 but improvement was called for and subsequently, delivered.

We simplified our offense even further to begin the second period. The girls carried this master plan (!) out to perfection to score 21 points from 7 different players to make it 3 baker’s dozens to 2 by half-time. Our third quarter haul of 26 points from a slightly different Magnificent 7 gave us breathing space at 65-41 easing into the final 10 minutes.

This may explain why the fourth quarter was as tame as a house-trained hamster. More shading, via a 13-10 score line, brought the final result to 78-51, a pleasing tally for a team without its 4 leading markswomen. Mystics II put in a spirited display as they look to cement their play-off chances. They pushed us all the way (sometimes literally!) and deserve credit for doing so without a couple of key players (not Yale and Chubb!) 

With 2 league games remaining, another win against our closest rivals, Sheffield next Saturday will see Mystics I crowned champions of the inaugural Northern premier League and ensure a #2 seeding with a home tie in the play-offs.

Thanks to James and Louise for their assistance as well as to our loyal band of supporters. 

Coach Jim's Report

Coach Jim’s Report: Mystics U14 vs Hatters

Coach Jim's Report

Coach Jim’s Report: Mystics U14 vs Spinners

The lead up to Mystics u14 I’s fixture with Lancashire Spinners last Saturday resembled a scene from ‘Casualty.’ For various reasons, mostly medical, we were without one short of a Magnificent 7 players. I’m pleased to report the 10 who remained standing honoured us with a brilliant all-round performance from beginning to end.

Sometimes, when you search for highlights, you are most likely to find them in someone’s hair. Not on this occasion. The adept finishing of Adele, Akeala, Anya and Mojan ranged from uncomplicated to draw-dropping. All four were equally impressive on defence but so were their team-mates Alycia, Eniola, Fatima, Lola, Mya and Neeusha. Whichever combination I had on the floor proved as difficult to get past as a 20 stone night club bouncer.

Our opponents do have 3 or 4 potentially high scoring players in their squad but our team defence was so in sink that they were often reduced to trying pot luck from distance. A small number did hit the mark to win them a coconut but the majority were more likely to hit the ceiling! That said, Spinners are no push overs and they competed well until the final whistle.

As mentioned previously, it is extremely difficult for young athletes to play at their optimum level for a whole game. Every now and again, (twice?) things happen that prove to be the exception to the rule. For instance, Man Utd did play quite well in one game this season and ‘comedian,’ Jimmy Carr did once say something which nearly made me smile. Likewise, in this game, Mystics treated us to some quality team basketball in every quarter. 

To register as many as 84 points without even the hint of a press against decent opposition is to be applauded. To limit them to just 34 and give our girls a victory as comfortable as an expensive mattress, bodes well for fast-approaching fixtures against Sheffield Hatters who are currently second in the Northern Premier League. We are the only team to have beaten them. We have done it once, we can do it again (and again!)

Many thanks to Louise, Ivan and our loyal band of supporters.

Best wishes


Coach Jim's Report

Coach Jim’s Report: Mystics U14 vs Newcastle

Once again, what stood out for me, apart from our bright red kit, in Mystics U14 I’s game versus Newcastle Eagles last Sunday was our terrific team spirit. Whether it be on court or on the bench, everyone roots for their teammates. They all seem to understand that trying to give reasonable court time to 12 players is extremely difficult (and not an option in close games.) This is a rare, very mature attitude for young athletes. I firmly believe that this togetherness will prove to be like a signed Thierry Henry Arsenal shirt – very valuable as time goes on, as it often does!

Before the game I spoke about mental toughness (a quality which can be taught and acquired) and how to respond positively to mistakes. Although we steamrollered through the first quarter 23-2, some of our finishing was looser than an XL t-shirt on a pet hamster. Understandably, some of our girls mirrored the fate of several English Kings and Queens in that their heads dropped momentarily. I explained that a preferable response is to quickly analyse what went wrong and move on. They are a very receptive group and I believe they will pay heed.

The fact that we missed more lay ups and put backs than there are Wonders of the World was far less of a problem than if we had been unable to create as many scoring opportunities as there are in a maximum break at snooker. Another plus was our team defence. As is always likely, our 4 internationals, Anya, Jane, Tiana and Mojan, did play exceptional on and off the ball defence (although one or two of them can be more like a tortoise than a hare in their defensive transition at times!) but so did the vast majority of their team-mates, notably Neeusha, Mya, Elsa and Alycia who can all be proud of their overall contributions. 

In attack, I was reminded of the Sioux nation getting it’s own back on the US cavalry at the Battle of Little Big Horn in that we proved too powerful for the Eagles despite the fact they never gave up and did their coach proud throughout a well officiated game played in excellent spirit. Most of our points were shared amongst 6 players, most often off the dribble but what pleased me most was the decisive and accurate passing shown by Lola T, Sophie B, Mya and Neeusha. I was also happy to see Fatima’s and Alycia’s confidence with the basketball and Lola P not being afraid to put her body where it hurts (and inevitably, it did!) 

A 76-34 victory obviously could have been even more resounding had I not shared the minutes around but players who train hard deserve the opportunity to show what they can do in case they are called upon in tougher contests. Equally important, in my opinion, I see absolutely no value in demoralising opposing players and coaches by running them into the ground accumulating an unnecessary cricket score.

Many thanks to James, Louise and Dawn for their invaluable assistance and to all parents for your support and cooperation. 

Best wishes


PS. Please note that this Thursday’s training session is from 6 til 8 at Chorlton HS – not the one I first went but the one nearly all of you hid from me at! Next game. Saturday 27 January at home to Spinners at 1.00

Coach Jim's Report

Coach Jim’s report: the local derby

Despite being like Samson after Delilah lobbed off most of his hair, -we weren’t at full strength – Mystics U14 produced a first half performance to be proud of against near neighbours Mystics II last Sunday in front of a sell-out crowd. My pre-game team talk centred around defensive roles (as opposed to forward rolls) as well as looking for the early pass rather than unnecessary dribbling. Those who were awake – it was, after all, a 10.00 tip off – certainly took notice for most of the proceedings.

Our impressive ball and player movement, orchestrated, in turn, by Adele and Akeala, were rewarded with a massive first half 50 points. Alternatively, our focus on individual and team defence since the Christmas break did what the Co-op used to do – it paid dividends. Despite their efforts, the hard-working, well-drilled (due to regular visits to the dentist?) Mystics II were restricted to a mere 12 points in reply. 

Someone must have spiked our drinks at half-time because we came out after the interval with all the energy of a sloth! Our display over the next 5 or 6 minutes proved the notion that it can be as difficult for young players to perform at the top of their game for an entire game as it is for former American Presidents and British Prime Ministers with dodgy hair to tell the truth. Our passing became as wayward as a broken Sat-nav and I was concerned that some of our girls had suddenly been stricken with colour blindness! 

A decision to start dribbling all over the place prompted me to think about playing in bibs and our previously water tight defence now had more holes in it than a golf course and a shop full of colanders. To their credit, our opponents took full advantage to win the quarter 16-20. To our girls’ credit, they appeared to list to my mixture of advice and constructive criticism and responded in ideal fashion.

I was convinced our downturn was principally due to complacency prompted by such a big lead. I called for greater focus and effort. I got it. The five who started set off like a scene from Gun Fight at the OK Coral – with all guns blazing. Multiple substitutions then, understandably, slowed our momentum somewhat but, inspired by the ubiquitous Jane and the unstoppable Mojan, we totalled 84 points. Excellent defensive displays from all 12 Mystics, most notably Neeusha, Alycia, Elsa and Mya limited our gallant opponents to 36 whilst positive contributions from Lola T, the two Sophies and Eniola are also worthy of mention.

We host Newcastle and Spinners over the next two weeks before season-defining fixtures at home and away to our biggest rivals Sheffield on 4 and 17 February.

Many thanks to James, Louise and Annette for your assistance and to all parents for your unfailing support.

Coach Jim's Report

Coach Jim’s Report: Mystics U14 vs Mystics U16 3 Friendly

Despite enough hiccups to get into the Guinness Book of Records, our friendly game – if there is such a thing – versus Mystics U16 III did go ahead against all the odds last Saturday. At one point it looked as if it had as much chance as Red Rum has of winning the 2024 Grand national! We overcame illness to the u16 coach, replaced by the U14 assistant coach James, who did a brilliant job, a very late change of tip off time plus a lack of referees. Many thanks to Esha and Sheri who stepped in and were superb.

Without our 4 internationals, who have yet to appear together in games or training, our 12 remaining u14s reminded me of Edmund Hillary’s challenge in 1953. They both had a big mountain to climb! Fortunately, it was the younger of the two sides who sprung into action in the first half. I had asked the girls to play harder and smarter than our opponents. I defined harder as getting up and down court faster, winning loose balls , rebounding early and aggressively as well as playing tough defence. Being smarter meant striving to be one move ahead with a plan A and B, doing the simple things well and winning the post-match quiz!

Our exceptional play during the opening 10 minutes yielded a massive 21 point via 7 different scorers. Our opposition appeared as bewildered as Marie Antoinette was just before her head and shoulders parted company. We were nearly as good in the second quarter and went into the interval deservedly 14 ahead at 39-25, something even Psychic Sally could not have foreseen.

In the back of my (tiny) mind, I was concerned that it would be asking too muck of such a young team to over-produce once more in the second half. The U16s have some talented players. Surely they would raise their game. They did. Big time. They used their physical superiority to their advantage by being far more aggressive going to basket and on the boards. This made defensive match ups problematic for our team. We capitulated to go into the final quarter 6 points down. This quickly extended to 11 before an impressive fight back reduced it to 6 at 57-63 by the final whistle.

We had produced basketball of a high level for 30 minutes against strong opponents and the girls should be as proud as I am of their overall performance. Sincere thanks to James, Louise, Dawn, Sheri and Esha for helping to ensure this local derby went ahead  (nearly as scheduled.)

Coach Jim's Report

Coach Jim’s Report Mystics U14 Friendly vs Northants

Amidst a dearth of league fixtures which leaves us with a spell of 1 competitive game in 10 weeks, I arranged a friendly in the not-so-nearby Northamptonshire to play Northants Lightning U14s last Sunday. As is the norm, this was one of many games which clash with Mystics u16 I so Mojan, Anya and Tiana were once again unavailable, as was Sophie O whose glass ankle gave way for a second time last week.

This meant it would be a good test for the remaining 12 Mystics U14 I squad. Fortunately, most of them are good at tests! In the event, the match was as keenly contested as the annual games of crazy golf I have with my wife (who keeps the score card whenever she wins!) Lightning stormed (!) into an early lead and first impressions were that this was going to be as tough as an arithmetic exam for an innumerate candidate. 

Some magic from Mystics (!) quickly restored parity but it wasn’t easy containing  well-drilled (their coach might be a dentist), physically strong opponents intent on driving hard to basket whether there was an open path or not. Despite not wearing body armour or crash helmets, Jane, Akeala and Neeusha courageously did all they could to minimise this threat to both the basket and their well-being. 

As the game progressed, Elsa, Eniola and Adele also put themselves in line for a gallantry award by way of some effective help defence. Eniola further assisted our cause with some very determined defensive rebounding. Offensively, in the first quarter, the excellent Mya and the effervescent Lola T demonstrated their prowess from the short corner with shooting accurate enough to to win a coconut at a fairground. Our 1 point  lead after 10 minutes became 5 by half-time thanks mainly to late baskets by the ever-improving Elsa, 3 in a row from the inspired Sophie B plus the move of the game involving Lola P and Jane.

After the break, despite no half-time oranges or cups of tea, we re-started well but fell away in the latter stages (possibly due to a lack of breath caused by too much singing on the journey!) and were 38-39 down with 9 minutes remaining. The team’s togetherness and wonderful team spirit then helped us turn things around. Jane’s one-person full-court press proved more fruitful than many an orchard. It produced as many steals as a kleptomaniac in overdrive. Our impressive team defensive transition, exemplified by Alycia, Neeusha, Adele and Lola T, nullified Lightning’s appropriately named fast break. An eye-catching score from Fatima drew thunderous (!) applause from the capacity crowd and 2 free throws (which were harder to come by than a kept promise from a politician) from the reliable Akeala sealed the deal at 56-48 to bring just reward for a team display full of all-out effort and determination.

Sincere thanks to Louise and Darren for going above and beyond to help us out. Unfortunately, there is still no venue for our Thursday evening training sessions but we do have a game vs Mystics u16 III this Saturday at 12.30.

Best wishes to both my readers.

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