It’s about half-way through the season. It started off strong, with players excited, parents cheering, and practices new and interesting. But somewhere around the halfway point something starts shifting. Cliques are beginning to form. Playing time is getting questioned (even if its pretty equal). Frustration may be bubbling under the surface. And then one day….you have the worst practice/game/tournament ever and it seems completely out of hand.
What happened? Some seasons have underlying drama that simply implodes before you,as a coach,even knew it was there. You felt something was off, their effort wasn’t the same, their mental toughness wasn’t there, and they’re now suddenly missing passes, shots, slides that they used to get. Here’s the equally important part many of us miss – we’re not nearly as positive as we were at the beginning of the season either. We are getting short with the refs. Easily frustrated at players. Maybe dealing with a few parents. Playing some unsportsmanlike teams. Having games with half the team sick or injured and getting pummeled helplessly. A little exhausted from balancing full time job, our own families and practices followed by weekend tourneys. With all of that going on, it’s bound to make a little of our light go out and we often don’t even realize it. That negativity and strain transfers to our players and is reflected back at us, but rarely do we make that correlation.
You can let this continue and decide that the drama isn’t part of your job, but it can spiral quickly. You can simply tell them to shape up. You can run them until they can’t focus on anything else. You can just blame it on your athletes being females (this response is my least favorite of all) OR…
You can hit RESET and teach them a better way to be a great teammate and build their confidence as you do it.
If you’re staring down the ugly eye of team culture gone wrong, here’s how you can get it back and be stronger on the other side for it.
- Remember that they are kids, still learning how to communicate. They are still learning how to read body language, understand sarcasm, and they are incredibly insecure no matter how confident they may appear. They are reacting to how they feel, they aren’t trying to sabotage the team even if they are successfully doing it.
- Be aware that their parents likely have no idea they are a mess at practice, stirring the pot with their teammates, throwing an attitude because that may not be the side they are showing at home and they are in a different setting there.
- Have a parent meeting, brief and to the point. We are struggling with negativity. It’s negative self talk, its lack of confidence, and it’s negative talk between teammates and behind each others backs. Our goal is to work on reinforcing positive behavior, call out high levels of effort and trying new things with praise, and stopping the negative self talk in it’s tracks. Ive never had this meeting and had parents not look completely surprised, they often just didn’t know and the turn around when parents buy in is incredible. Remember, parents truly do want the same things we do as coaches – happy, growing, developing kids with character who are getting better at their sport.
- Have at team meeting. Don’t hold back and sugar coat it, be straight forward but kind. Boundaries make kids feel safer. You will many times be surprised at the positive reaction that kind and caring boundaries will create. “You are here to play ___insert sport___. When you come to practice you are there to get better at this sport. If you don’t want to be at practice, don’t take away from the players that want to learn. You have the choice to stay home or chose another activity. If you want to come, we will be training you to get better. Sometimes it will be fun, some times it will be hard, sometimes it won’t be your favorite thing. This opportunity is for those who want it. These are your teammates, your job is to work with them, support them, and help them grow as well as to offer your very best to them. There will be no negativity tolerated towards another teammate or towards yourself.
- Talk about where the team is going. We have this many games left, this many weeks of practice, fun events, tournaments, dinners, and tons of fun. We want every single player here to experience all of this. But only the players who agree to be all in will be continuing on this journey with us.
- Hand out team pledge (below is one of mine I used for a middle school travel team). Give them a week to look it over with their parents, sign it and hand it in. Express how valuable each player is and that you want every single player on board making life long friends and building memories, but that they need to be sure when they sign it that they are committed to the pledge.
- Leave it at that. Tell them how much you enjoy coaching them and that you care about them and their experience and then end the meeting. It is incredibly important that your delivery is firm but driven by love. They can feel if you are doing this for their best interest. Don’t go into this meeting with any anger in your heart.
- Let the reset happen. Show up at the next practice with a high energy fun drill and a lot of high fives. Bring contagious positivity to propel you forward and encourage players as they make efforts towards encouraging other players. Give real praise – praise an effort or attempt of a new skill with no correction, no strings attached. We tend to sandwich everything with the intention of being positive but it’s over instruction- sometimes they just need the high five.
SAMPLE TEAM PLEDGE:
My Pledge to the team:
Believe in the abilities and efforts of my fellow teammates
Encourage and build up my teammates
Play hard and put out my best effort at practices and in games
Think of the what the team’s needs are FIRST before my own
Not allow negativity to get inside our team atmosphere, and I will not contribute to negativity
Focus on being the best I can be in whatever role I am playing inside of our team
Focus on solutions instead of problems
Value all teammates and treat them with kindness and respect both in their presence and when I am not with them.
I will talk positively about myself and continue to improve on where I feel I have weaknesses without quitting.
Seek help from coaches and support from teammates when I am frustrated
If you’re all in, sign the bottom and return to coach at practice this week.