Reacting to a Disappointing Performance
Losing is hard, especially when you try to do the right thing and coach the right way and fail to get the desired results. The easy solution is to fall in line and do things the same way asveryone else, focuing on the Peak by Friday mentality. However, taking a long term approach takes time; if you never give it time, you never know if it will work.
Today, I received this email from a frustrated coach:
We still haven’t won a game, but it really hasn’t gotten to me until last night. Last night we had no intensity (as a team), no desire, no pride, no will to win. Our offense stood around, and our defense just let people drive right by. It was an ugly game on our part, and for the first time this year, I was disappointed with our effort.
Sometimes, staying motivated and playing hard all the time gets difficult when there is no result. As a coach, it’s tough to know how to motivate players to work hard when nothing good seems to happen. As the coach wrote:
My past makes me want to revert back to what my old coaches would have done and have an excruciating practice today, focusing on nothing but fullcourt defense and then sprints if we werent playing hard, but that doesn’t seem right anymore and I’d like to know what you would do.
A college assistant recently emailed about the same issue. Her team lost and the head coach proceeded to run the team into the ground during the next practice. It is the normal reaction: the coach gets frustrated and the players are not playing hard, so you punish them by forcing them to have a hard practice. But, is that the right approach? Is it the best approach?
If the team is out of shape and needs conditioning, running more might be the answer. However, 8-10 games into the season, teams should be in shape; conditioning should not be an issue now. If conditioning is not the issue, how does running sprints improve the situation?
If the team is losing games, and losing hurts team morale, which leads to a less than stellar performance, is running going to help the team improve or win the next game?
If the team’s morale is down, is an excruciating practice going to improve morale?
A coach needs to step back and evaluate his or her team. I told the college assistant that her team likely needed more rest, not a hard practice, because the team was in the middle of finals and played three games in five days. I said that when the practice effort waned, rather than run the players into the ground, the head coach should have kicked the team out of the gym. This approach allows the coach to make a point, while also giving the team a light practice, rather than trying to run them into the ground.
In reply to the email I received today, I suggested taking the opposite approach. With a youth team, I just don’t see the point of running a team into the ground because their performance did not meet your expectations. I think coaches need to evaluate their role in the performance before blaming the players and taking out their frustrations on the players. I suggested an intense, fun game like tag or a fast break game to start practice.
If the team played hard, I would use the effort as a positive example of what we want during games – win or lose. If the team remained sluggish in the fun drills, I would stop practice and ask the team for their thoughts. If the team is focused on wins and losses or playing time issues, I would try to re-focus players on effort goals and attainable goals.
Running is not evil. However, I don’t think scaring kids into playing hard is the right answer. I think coaches need to do a better job evaluating their players and the players’ psychological state and adjust accordingly, whether coaching college players or junior high school.