You’re coming off a big win over a rival and your players feel really good about themselves. Maybe too good. Or you got your butts kicked, and you feel the confidence getting sucked out of the locker room. After an emotional high or an emotional low, coaches face the challenge of getting kids focused on the next game instead of the last one.
Here are four things you can do to help your players maintain the appropriate focus.
Keep Your Team Together Longer
After a tough loss, it’s easy for players to lapse into the Blame Game. And after a big win, parents, classmates and local media might stroke individual egos a bit too much. To keep players from going their own ways, lengthen meetings and practices. Get player input during film sessions before providing corrective feedback. Plan practices so that their length isn’t a punishment, but an opportunity to place additional focus on specific skills and details.
Focus Equally on the Good and the Bad
Even in a blowout loss, your team does some good things. And after wins, the result can give players permission to overlook mistakes that better teams might exploit. In film sessions, avoid the temptation to show your team only the plays that require correction. Rather than showing eight bad plays, show four bad ones and four good ones. Yes, players need to know what they did wrong, but it’s just as important for them to know what they’re doing right.
Players need to be held accountable for their actions and errors; so do coaches. Every good coach is reflective about whether or not they did all they could or made the right decisions to prepare their team for a game. After a tough loss, the coaching staff is likely to commiserate behind closed doors and figure out how to plug any gaps they perceive in game preparation. But when coaches model accountability, they signal to players that mistakes are opportunities for growth. We’re not talking dramatic confessionals, but when coaches are up front about the adjustments they’re going to make, players are more likely to buy into the adjustments they need to make.
Make Your Energy Contagious
For coaches, focusing on the negative is practically second nature. But after a loss, each coach on a staff will develop plans to improve their unit’s performance. If coaches are positive with each other before meeting with the players, the coaches will bring that energy into team meetings and practice. Whether you’re lifting players’ spirits after a loss, or focusing on the process of improvement after a win, infectious energy is essential to sharp focus. If you get on players too much, the game stops being fun.
To maintain focus, your players need to know what you probably already know: You’re never as good as you think, and you’re never as bad as you think.