One of the most challenging psychology duties a coach is faced with is keeping his or her team upbeat, positive, motivated, and optimistic after losing a game. Coaching is a lot easier when the team is winning, but what about the times where the team is dejected, frustrated, and with little confidence for the future? It is in these moments that the overall success of a coach is often measured.
I have always liked the saying “forewarned is forearmed,” with the implication that if we have a good idea of what is ahead of us we can responsibly prepare for the experience. In sports, it is inevitable that you will lose, so it is important for coaches to think ahead about the strategies that might be considered when dealing with players who seem to have lost their hope and confidence for future team success. By spending a few minutes thinking ahead of time how to handle these types of situations, the likelihood for a faster bounce-back increases dramatically – as does the team’s resiliency and chances for future success.
Tips to help get the team back on track
As with most things in life, the way a coach handles defeat with his or her team is about as unique as each coach and his or her players. Still, there are a few important aspects of team psychology dynamics as they relate to future team success that are worth considering, including the following:
- After a loss one of the most important things a coach can do is to emphasize effort (assuming the team didn’t quit). By positively reinforcing effort, you will essentially shape future positive behaviors that, in all likelihood, will lead to future success.
- Re-frame the experience. It goes without saying that losing is never fun, but often when we lose in life we tend to make the experience more catastrophic than is necessary (or accurate). Losing a big game can be deflating, but is it the end of the world? Are there experiences to build on, or ways to use the experience to come back stronger later in the season? If it is an early-season loss, how can you keep it in perspective so that the rest of the season isn’t lost?
- Even in losses, there are always important points to build on for the future. What did the team do right? Were there specific plays that went well, or periods in the game where you were more competitive? Great coaches find those moments and use them to build positive future scaffolding to use to improve the team as the season wears on over time.
- Teach the team to develop a short memory for losing. Great athletes have incredibly short memories, and instead channel their focus and motivation toward the next practice, training session, or game. This kind of positive mindset is not something they are born with, but instead a skill they have developed over time that has allowed them to learn from their previous frustrations, adversities, and failures.
- Ask the team for their input. Authoritarian coaches out there may not like to hear this, but when people (in this case, the team) are solicited and encouraged to share their thoughts and perspectives in a democratic-type manner, they often begin to take even more ownership of their experience (and play harder as a result). This perceived “loss of power” does not imply that the coach should sit back and allow the team to take over in the film room or when looking at ways for improving in the future, but instead suggests that coaches find a delicate balance between their own instruction and soliciting input from the team. How could we have done that better? What play might have been more effective in that situation? Ask the team and listen closely – you might be surprised at what you learn.
While losing is never fun, there is a lot for savvy coaches to work with when trying to get the team back to winning games again. Emphasizing effort, capitalizing on small success, and getting the team involved in developing future goals are a few important ideas to consider when looking to turn the team around. Successful teams begin with great leadership, so make it a point to work through tough times rather than ignore them if you want your players to grow and learn through losses and adversity.
building, Coaching, dynamics, frustration, Leadership, losing, morale, resiliency, sports, success, team