Developing “what if” plan when losing the game

Quite a while ago my fellow coaching buddy suffered two back to back defeats with his team. He was less concern about results of the games and more about players reaction during and after both games were over. Some players couldn’t handle the defeats without tears. Others didn’t know how to behave on the pitch in such circumstances when opposition leading the game. So, I listen to his post matches feedback and pose the question: Are your players didn’t know what to do or they have not been prepared for it? In other words, did you have a simple plan “what if” when losing the game? We are correct to create environment where development is taking over the results but at the same time we have to plan and prepare players for every eventuality and here are important tips how and why to do this?

1. Set up intelligent game scenarios during training sessions
Designing realistic game scenarios can be powerful tool to help players deal with losing and at the same time trying to overturn the score line. This need to be pre-planned, share with players and give them justification why? That way you involve and engaged kids with learning process.

2. Prepare clear match performance learning aims
Preparing game scenarios is first step, but may be not enough if you just leave entire process there and let the players figure out the rest. Why? Because they will not focus on process to overturn the game, instead will continue to fully engaged with score line only and concentrate on just that. Therefore, during training games make performance learning aims clear and easy to understand. Is worth to praise or reward the team which executed these aims well.

Scenario: you losing 2:0 half time

Performance learning aim for losing team: try to win the ball back on opposition half and if score goal counts double

Performance learning aim for winning team: try to recognize when to pass and when to dribble

3. Manage/play with the result of the training match
Take full responsibility to change results during training matches. If team A winning 2:0 against team B reverse the result in favour of team B, so now they leading the game 2:0. By doing so you provide opportunity for each player to experience losing situations. You also give them a chance to deal with these circumstances and learn to cope emotionally. This will give you an excellent opportunity to learn more about players you coach. In addition, still remind players about their performance aims for each team.

4. Set up players individual learning challenge
Understanding and knowing your group well enough is important, because this may not be for everyone. Recognizing which player struggle emotionally when losing, experiencing defeat or fear of failure is key to help. Then and only then cleverly design individual challenge may help these players cope better under pressure of losing the game.

5. Follow up consistent and clear learning messages on match day
Remind players about their match aims in both scenarios winning and losing. Prepare 3 simple questions:
What do to? Team performance learning aims
How to do it? Follow up form you weekly training sessions
Why to do it? To prepare players for each eventuality and help them deal with unpleasant moments better as players and people.

6. Motivate to play, confident to play, competent to play
Using tips 1-5 may (not always will immediately) help players to be more motivated (individual challenges, team performance aims). Players will be more confident to cope and deal when losing during the match. Finally, will be more competent to understand and focus on learning process that may come from defeat rather than concentrate on defeat itself.

7. Knowing when to talk about the game
Watching kids playing the game of football can be very emotional for coaches. Even more so for their players. When the game is over, most coaches try to talk with players with good intentions. Trouble is, the match is just finish but children emotions still playing the game. Depends on the outcome of the game (win or loss), children can be happy, smile or angry, frustrated and upset. Therefore, is good to wait until child emotional state back to normal. Then knowing what to say and how to say it keep the channels of communication open between coach and the child.

8. Accept players feelings and emotions
Accepting kids just as they are makes talking with them easier (that also means respecting their feelings and emotions). When child feel his /her emotional state are accepted is more prepare to share their feelings and views about the game later. In other words, children are ready to talk about the tough game and share their experiences.

9. Clever performance evaluation matter
Always focus and let the players know what they did well (performance aims) They will recognize and respect that you see their strengths and you support them. Moreover, you will shift they focus almost completely from defeat itself and its negative outcomes.

10. Don’t lose your head
Most of us have competitive nature. Therefore, sometimes we don’t realise we lost our head when our team losing. We completely lost focus what is matter (performance aims) and shift to things that is out of our control such as: opposition, referee etc… This only distract players from what we prepare before the game rather than help them. Having your own emotions under control will allowed players to recognize that you are a good coach. This itself will increase their willingness to talk with you about the game. Let’s concentrate then what is important -our players and their development. This powerful and positive conclusion must drive us all to work always for the benefit of kids within our care.