Losing – Part 1: How to deal with it during a game

Gameday is filled with emotion and expectations are high. You don’t or at least you shouldn’t be expecting a loss. But when the game starts to turn towards the dark side, negative emotions start to creep in for players and coaches. How you as a coach handles this adversity is important for how your team will respond when it happens again. I’m not psychiatrist, but here’s a few things I learned through coaching lacrosse.

Not an individuals fault

As the game begins to go slip through our grasp, we do the opposite and hold onto anything we can. First we have the denial this is happening and we find something to blame it on. If player A would hustle a little more (and you remind him), if player B would take care of the ball (and you remind him), if player C would would pick his head up (and you remind him), if the ref didn’t miss the offsides (and you remind them). There are a number of reasons that cause this game to slip away, but berating one person won’t bring it back. To compound the situation, the players may begin to turn on one another. This can lead to an even worse situation that last beyond just this game. That really isn’t a good scenario, but is the coach modeling this behavior or preventing it? *self reflection moment

I love the phrase “shout praises, and whisper criticisms” by Don Meyer. In a game, you don’t have much of chance to really stop the bleeding. It’s happening, and while yes we may have timeouts to delay their momentum, they cannot directly make us play better. In these scenarios is ripping a player or official to pieces going to reset your course? I fear that more times than not, you will lose a player’s focus and output with a verbal attack. Not to mention the time wasted focusing on one player, when we should have focus on getting our team back to maximum output.

Focus on the TEAM

During a game it’s important to ensure an individual knows their role and excels at it (a quiet reminder on the sideline works for this), but your focus is not to get one player to win the game. Your focus is about getting your TEAM back on track. You and I know, this won’t be the only time your team is losing during a game this season. We need the TEAM to know the coach has their back, and the players have each other’s back.

Set simple goals to generate in game wins

Success doesn’t have to mean winning. As mentioned earlier, your job is to take these players today and help them become the player they want to be tomorrow. Part of that is learning how to fight through adversity in the moment. As the wheels are falling off we need to stop it, reset course, and finish strong.

Stop it. The first step is to stop the negative direction of the team. This can be through a timeout, end of a quarter, halftime, etc. I firmly believe you need to remove the team as best you can from the situation. Time off the field in a group of teammates is the best way to do that. We all feel more comfortable with our own families than we do with our opposition. This huddle creates that comfort sense and reminds us we aren’t alone. Here we can address the issue head on. It’s best to reiterate to the TEAM what the problem is, and the issue isn’t one person. Now the TEAM and coaches mutually agree to stop whatever it was that lead to this losing development.

Reset course. Now that we know what the problem is, we can move on to how are we going to tackle this. Depending on the situation your are facing, you create an attainable goal that can be seen as a “success” for your team. Defensively, I want to hear everyone yelling “HOT” and “TWO” this time down the field. If the other team scores so be it, if we did what we were supposed to, than we applaud the “success”. Maybe we simply focus on no topside, our slide is late and they score, so be it. If we accomplish our goal…applaud it. Offensively, it can be as simple as passing and catching around the field. “Get me a string of 4 good passes to the ear and then we are good to go to goal”. This takes the focus from scoring 6 goals with one shot to make up the deficit, and helps the players focus on fundamentals, getting the ball to the ear. “I want to see a dodge from top center, don’t go to the goal, but I want to see everyone rotating to their spots”. Here is another that shouldn’t cause too much trouble as we don’t want to get into the teeth of the defense, but allows and encourages our team to get back onto the same page. Again another “success” in an otherwise gloomy situation.

Finish strong. We now recovered from the problem and we are back with a few little wins. Now we stretch ourselves. At this point we don’t really have much to lose and everything to gain. Now we want to win the half, the quarter, the next 5 mins, whatever it is define a time period during the game and win it. While today will end in defeat, the learning to battle through adversity with little wins and ultimately winning a quarter may come in handy in a close contest. Being able to fall back on this moment and remind them of their turn around can be the catalyst they need in the close games. “You’ve done it before, so lets do it again.”

Coaches coach in practice and players play on gamedays. There is little a coach can do to truly effect gameday in a positive direction if your team just isn’t performing. However, a coach can totally derail a gameday in the negative direction. When losing in the contest coaches need to keep their emotions in check, focus on the TEAM, and create a blueprint for success that will pay off for the team in a future battle with adversity.

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