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Game Recovery: When your team is not playing well

give up

I can be optimistic, but I’m more of a realist. Yes, I fully think we can win this game, but when things are going bad and the only adjustment I can make is to hope and wish that my players start doing what they already know how to do but aren’t executing – then I know things aren’t going to end well.

The players are realists as well. They are in the throw of things, getting torn to bits while they miss passes, slide late, shoot wide, and get beat to ground balls. All of the falling short that is going on is at the center of their attention. Its hard to have faith in the face of that growing mistake pile.

Often I feel myself getting frustrated and starting to give up when we just aren’t playing well or to our ability. It’s tempting to take a seat on the bench and watch the train wreck. What else can I do? I’ve tried everything else. We just don’t have it today…..

Here’s the thing with being the coach, the adult, the conductor of your team. There’s no one behind you to refill your faith. It’s up to you. Even if you aren’t feeling it, you have to find it, you have to create it, and you have to hand it down to your athletes.  If you quit, if you concede before the game is over, then there’s nothing behind you to rekindle that belief in your players. Often it’s how we are coaching, carrying ourselves, and communicating that actually depletes our chances of that storybook comeback, we almost do it to ourselves.

Keep these thoughts in your mind as you feel that doubt creeping in, because I’ve been a part of impossible comebacks, and I’ve seen teams who have lost all season go beat the best of the best. Never declare a loss before the final whistle, never doubt that the player who’s been riding the bench can’t score the game winning goal when you’re starter has quit on herself. Never say never.

Things to do when you’re not playing your game and can’t get in the groove:

  1. The players are drowning in the weight of their mistakes, don’t add to the pressure by drilling them about how they are playing terrible, it won’t create a positive change.
  2. When the players see the coach start to lose faith, you likely won’t recover them the rest of the game. You are their measuring stick of what they can accomplish.
  3. There is always a way around, through, under, over. Until you’ve tried them all, until you’ve let everyone on the bench have a shot at turning it around, until you’ve pumped them full of excitement and belief, then you aren’t done.  Keep going!
  4. Turn blame into celebrations. Point out the strengths of your players and have them focus on putting those on the field. Have them focus on their teammates strengths and how they can help them use them better by being a support. Throw away the mistakes. I like to say – let it go, we’ll work on that at the next practice. Focus on this instead…
  5. Ask yourself if you’re coaching or whining. “We aren’t getting the ground balls” is whining. It gives them zero adjustments to become successful. It’s a waste of time and likely obvious already to the players. “We need to get lower and keep our feet moving through the pick up” is coaching. Coaching leads to success. Whining leads to more whining.
  6. Talk about belief. Talk about success. Talk about their abilities. The power of “YOU CAN” is unshakeable. The power of “You’re NOT..” is also strong, but only in creating more deficits on the field.
  7. Stop screaming onto the field. Humiliation is hard to shake for an athlete. There’s enough time after a goal to call the defense to the sideline to give a brief and direct instruction or encouragement.  There’s an easy substitution that can be made to bring info out to the players on the other side of the field. Athletes hear parents, refs, coaches, and teammates all yelling. The result is typically tuning out simply for the need to focus. Don’t be another voice to tune out, and make sure the instruction you give them is clear, quick and to the point. “Drop to the inside when number 4 drives and stay on her left side.” is a useful direct instruction. “Stop letting that girl get past you.” is more whining and not useful.
  8. Listen to your players, but redirect or cut short anything that isn’t solution based. Complaints are not helpful, blaming is useless. I want my players to tell me what THEY plan to do better, not how the rest of the team is falling short.  They can talk about how a player could better support their plan to make themselves perform better – “if the player on my right cuts through to make space I’ll be more open to drive and Im going to be more aware of that” is a great solution based idea.
  9. Keep the high fives, the thumbs up, the smiling and the fun through it all. Players who aren’t over stressed tend to see the field better and make smarter decisions. Lower the stress level, celebrate it all because at the end of that tough game, there must be something positive they can take away to be successful at the next competition.
  10. Remember that winning is an outcome. The focus must be on the details, the process, the effort, the attitude, and the love of the game. The ending will find itself and doesn’t need your help.  Coach the actions and the belief, not the results.

Now go get em!! 🙂

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