The post game talk is always an interesting one. You’ve just spent a couple hours emotionally invested in the game, and no matter the outcome you are supposed to come up with something to say. I share my story below an how my rookie coaching ego shaped/changed my post game talks. I learned from my mistakes and hopefully you can learn from mine as well.
I remember the beginning of my first ever Varsity lacrosse season as a Coach. Here I am ready to take the reigns from the previous coach and advance this program even further. I knew I could get us to where we needed to be if the players bought into my plan. Game one we lost by one goal in a sloppy contest to a team that finished with a losing record. This was very disappointing for me, because I thought and I knew we were better than that.
Game 2 is what really mattered, game 2 was against our rival. Game 2 was against the local private school that had kids that our players grew up with in the youth program. I wanted to show the current youth program families that the public school was the better of the two lacrosse programs. I put a lot of effort into this game making sure the players knew what I wanted them to do. Come gameday things did not go the way I had planned. A back and forth game ended the wrong way, and I was embarrassed. I felt we had the better team and we made too many mistakes that gave it away. The other team had some really good players and they would prove that for the next few years, but I felt this one was ours and we blew it.
I entered that post game locker room enraged. We were now 0-2, losing two games I thought we should have won, and worst of all we lost to our rival on our own field. I could not stop the anger that washed over me and I provided a post game rant that ripped into all our players. I questioned all of them on their interest in being apart of this team. I can’t recall all that was said, but I know none of it was to build any of the players up. It was all to display how upset I was because we weren’t going to go anywhere, and I wasn’t fulfilling my goal of taking this team to new heights.
Throughout this story you may notice something, the use of “I”, “me”, and “my”. Everything was about me and my goals. I had forgot why I wanted to coach, I loved this sport and the experiences and opportunities it gave me. Now I wanted to help share my love of the sport with others. I loved working with high school boys and helping them mature into young men.
I failed miserably and let my ego take over everything. I was broken for a few days, ashamed of my treatment of the players. I realized that the person in the mirror needed to be the first to change. I won’t say I was perfect the rest of the way, but my first Varsity team helped polish me along the way. And the story fortunately had a happy ending when WE, not me, made it to the state playoffs for the first time in our programs history.
Recognize your ego and bury it
Ego can actually be a good thing on the lacrosse field. Used the right way it helps us accomplish task that others may see as impossible and drives our competitive spirit. But after a defeat, ego can tear us apart. After the loss, you need to recognize when your ego is creeping into our thoughts. It’s that thing inside you that will stop you from being able to truly control yourself. It’s that thing that wants to blame others, because it wasn’t you that lost. It’s that thing inside that protects our pride. Knowing when your ego is trying to take over is the first step. This is what I failed to do early in my first season. I don’t think I was trying to be mean or a bad guy, I just fell prey to my ego. I learned, and adjusted.
After a loss, the first message to the team should be about that, the TEAM. It’s ok to highlight a few areas of weakness you need to focus on, but ensure its about the team and not one person. We talked in the last article about removing the individual from the verbal barbs (remember to shout praises and whisper criticisms), and continue to focus on how the team needs to improve. You included. Finish your conversation about some of the successes you had to finish out the game. I like to start with the not so good, but remind ourselves that we did accomplish something here tonight and we are going to take that and build. Always end on optimism.
Own the loss
There is one person I’m always willing to “blame”, but I know he can handle it. I’m very much of the opinion that you should shoulder most of the blame. Showing your team that you are willing to put yourself in front of them for the blame will encourage their willingness to fight harder for you. This act helps free players from fear, and enables them to play loose and with trust. Singling players out shows you are about yourself, singling yourself out shows you are about the players. And make sure its done in a humble way, or else it’s really not sincere and players will see through that.
As a rookie coach, I learned early that I needed to understand and control my ego. It can destroy you and/or your chemistry with the team. Losing is hard on everyone, but I think its also the time we are most pliable. “Winners” feel like they have it figured out, but “losers” are looking for answers. Give them hope in this moment that as a TEAM we will fix this, and you their coach, is right there with them ready to do what it takes to get them back on track. If you can do this in the toughest moments you will begin laying the foundation of success.
“Use pain as a stepping stone, not a camp ground.” —- Alan Cohen