Losing is part of the competition. If you play any sport long enough, then you will eventually experience the adversity of being defeated. Whether it be an occasional game or going through an entire season and losing more (sometimes many more!) games than you win. Failure, at some point, is inevitable and unavoidable. Certainly, no one sets out to lose a game. Coaches, players, and parents should begin to view their team’s struggles in a different light. Losing, however, is a necessary ingredient to ultimate success.
Below are 4 tips on how to learn from losing:
Tip #1 Help Young Players Focus on The Process, Not on The Outcome
Often times, teams struggle because there is an underlying reason. Maybe the players aren’t experienced enough. Maybe the coach has made mistakes. Maybe they just can’t get over the hump in close games. If your team is struggling mightily, there are likely a multitude of reasons. It’s important to step back and view the entire situation through a broader lens. As a parent, am I doing what is best for my child’s team? And as a coach, am I dedicated to learning from my mistakes? Losing is not usually the ultimate problem. The real issue is how team members respond to failure. Adults need to work with young players to view losing as a chance to learn and grow. Frustration can be positive based on how you respond to it. Do you shut down or do you adapt and overcome? Adapting the growth mindset isn’t easy, but what are the other options? Quit? Make excuses? Blame others?
Tip #2 Focus on positively reinforcing small improvements
Coaches and parents do not always fully appreciate how their reactions affect young players. It’s imperative to know that children base their reactions on their parent’s or coach’s reactions. An optimistic mindset is crucial to our youngsters in maintaining enjoyment, especially for a losing team. Of course, it will not be easy, but entire seasons may be lost, experiences ruined and opportunities squandered when negativity takes hold of a team. Be intentional about looking for positive things! Did your team make more free throws today than they did yesterday? Did they set better screens? Did they break the press with fewer turnovers? Relate the positive result with the process that leads to it. Praise the process and congratulate the outcome. There will still be things that your team needs to do better and players may be accountable but in tough times positivity is crucial. For some reason, the idea of staying positive has developed a negative connotation. I would argue that the ability to maintain a positive outlook and view losses as a chance to grow takes great strength. It’s easy to give in to negative emotions and let frustration get the best of you. Anger might come across as “tough”, but true toughness is recognizing and practicing some control over negative thoughts and behaviors.
Tip #3 Communicate clearly and often
People tend to withdraw and fragment when adversity hits. In these times, it’s important that adults initiate dialogue and not allow young players to stop communicating. Lack of communication can breed mistrust on losing teams, which can prove fatal. The same rules apply to parents and coaches, especially with young teams. It’s important that parents know that coaches are working to “right the ship”. What are coaches seeing and what are they doing to improve the situation? A lack of communication can signal parents that coaches are disengaged or giving up, another death blow to a team’s morale! Parents of young players also have a responsibility to positively communicate with their children and other parents. It takes the entire group to make the most of a season of struggles! Parents, players, and coaches MUST come together and communicate clearly and respectfully to help their children learn how to handle the difficulties of disappointment and to ensure that young athletes never give up.
Tip #4 Share stories
Do you think your child is the first player ever to get frustrated by losing? Is your team the first team to ever have a tough season? Absolutely not! Learning from how others have handled disappointment can be just the motivation that kids need during hard times. Everyone knows the story of Michael Jordan being cut from his high school team, but this story came to mind when I think of inspiring people overcoming adversity. In 2018, the University of Virginia men’s basketball team was the first team in the history of the NCAA tournament to be the #1 seed and loses to the #16 seed in the first round. The first team! Ever! How easy it would have been for head coach Tony Bennett and his players to crawl into a hole and not come out. As you probably know, however, they went on the win the national championship a year later. An amazing response to the previous year’s adversity! I love what Coach Bennett said after winning the national title game: “If you learn to use it right, the adversity, it will buy you a ticket to a place you couldn’t have gone any other way.” This sentiment, in my mind, is what youth sports is all about! It is the responsibility of adults to help young people “LEARN to use” adversity in the right way. So next time you’re tempted to talk negatively about your child’s coach or point the finger at another player on the team, stop and ask yourself if you are helping your child learn to use adversity the right way. We help our kids the most when we consistently stress that there are growth opportunities in every situation.