Helping Your Players Learn From a Loss

Emotions. Can't live with 'em, can't live without 'em. If passion is an emotion, then it's a good one for basketball players to have. I would rather players have too much passion and challenge me to funnel it constructively, than to have players without passion and the challenge of creating it in them.

I'm not even sure that the latter can be done. But I do know of a specific place in the game that I would like coaches to train, discipline, or control their players' emotions: when the team has lost.

Speaking from my own experience, specifically when I was first starting my coaching career, I would let my own emotions speak for me in the locker room after a loss. Looking back over those years, I can confidently say that very little good came out of those speeches.

Things can get said by coaches and players alike that should never be said and are so far from the truth that you'll wonder the next day what possessed you to say them. The players are trying to deal with their own emotions as well, and will never remember what you said, except for the negative parts. I've noticed that players try to deal with losses in a variety of ways:

1. They try to laugh it off and pretend that it doesn't matter. This is an attempt to hide feelings that they don't yet have the background to deal with.

2. They go the other extreme: anger. They play the blame game in attempt to transfer the bad feelings to another person:

  • It was the coach's fault.
  • It was the officials' fault.
  • It was one or more of their teammates' fault.

3. Some understand that the reason for the loss lies in themselves and they introvert and blame themselves too much and for too long.

Before dismissing these reactions, consider that there is some truth mixed with falsehood in each one.

1. The loss does matter. Denying it won't help. The reality is that losing hurts. It's unrealistic to get over it immediately but players must put the loss behind them before the next day. Otherwise it affects preparation for the next game.

2. Their coaches, officials, and teammates each have their own measure of influence on the game, but none bear the entire blame for the loss. (I'm always amazed at hearing how one individual's missed shot or the last turnover lost the game.

What about the other 30 missed shots and 15 turnovers by the rest of the team over the course of the game?) Regardless, the point is that players cannot control coaches, officials, or their own teammates. Blaming them is an exercise in futility. (They should leave the blame game to their parents! Just joking.)

3. The reason for the loss does lie within each player, but beating oneself up is not the answer either.

Will lecturing them with these points help? I doubt it. Bad habits must be replaced with good habits. How a player handles a loss is a learned habit. So, how do we coaches change the habit? Consider that the mind is the answer to our unreliable emotions.

Of course that means we must use our minds: I want the players to think about the game. I want them to think while it's fresh in their minds and before their peers and parents can influence them with their version of the game. I want them to think in place of crying, blaming, being angry, arguing or anything else. How can you accomplish this?

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