Sure, losing hurts and it’s not what we spent all that time and effort practicing for.
If you’re mired in a rough patch, here are 10 things you can do to help right the ship and make it to Post-Season!
I’m just going to say it – How You Handle your losses now, determine your wins later. While it might not be too popular to say something like that, especially if you’re in the middle of a rough patch right now, deep down we all know it’s true. I picked this week’s quote to highlight this exact point. Confucius hit the nail on the head when he said,” The gem cannot be polished w/o friction, nor man perfected w/o trials.“
If you’re a college coach right now struggling through some early season losses there is hope! We all know doing well, against higher rated teams is only important if you don’t get the job done on the field during conference play. If you’re a borderline team come post-season, well, there might not be a post-season for your team. And that’s when these early season losses come into play – after your team didn’t get it done during the regular season.
So, instead of replaying last season, or whatever season it was that still haunts you because that exact thing happened – play THIS season, THIS team! Turn those early season struggles into later season wins, and come out of the fire with a stronger team to do battle in conference play! Take the rest of your season into your own hands and create a masterpiece! Here are 10 ways you can make that happen:
- Keep the Faith – it’s critical that YOU can see a way out of the darkness, instead of projecting darkness after a few losses.
- Welds Create Strength – just as it takes fire to seal, or weld two pieces of steel together making them even stronger, it takes loses and adversity to shape our ultimate team. According to researchers, emotions help memories form and stick in our brains. Loses, or failures are our strongest emotions. They stick with us and motivate us to work harder in practice, lift longer in the weight room and battle fiercer on the playing field. If we never lose we aren’t forced to confront the strongest of motivators – preventing loses from happening again in the future. Those losses also give us the best chance of welding tighter as a team – or not. It’s all in our choices when confronted with adversity.
- Weaknesses Uncovered – early season losses can be great for developing your eventual team since they reveal weaknesses, or cracks in the armor, and allow you to fix them since they will certainly be attacked again as the season wears on. Find the weakness and set about fixing it. Hopefully you knew enough to expect some resistance and bumps in the road along the way. Loses are part of playing softball. They happen and they are just as much a part of the game as an umpires call, foul weather or transportation delays. Things happen differently than we’d hoped, but certainly not differently than we’d planned – so plan for struggle and be ready when they come. Because they will come!
- Remove Your Emotion – it’s easy to get mad and be emotional about losing. Nobody likes it, and I’m not suggesting that by removing your emotional reaction to a loss means I think you should like it. No way! You should hate losing. But, you need to avoid being too emotional about it because emotions waste time, and more importantly, conveys panic. The last thing your team needs to see is their leader panic. Avoid questions like “why”, and “how come”. Those won’t lead you to answers. Instead, questions like “what” let you delve deeper into the parts of the game that are weak and yet fixable.
- Avoid Calling on Wonder Woman – the tendency, when your team struggles is to expect and even demand more from our pitcher. I should put this as #1 since it’s the response I run in to most often. I get lots of 911 calls from coaches asking me to urgently fix their pitchers since their team is struggling. And, sure, their pitcher might not be doing great, but asking 1 person to do even more instead of asking lots of people to do a little better spells trouble. Nobody, pitchers included, plays better when they’re stressed and pressing. Suddenly standing next to your pitcher, with a pained or panicked look on your face and telling her she HAS to get better isn’t the recipe to recovery! Instead of throwing ALL of it on your pitcher, what if you practiced more on helping your defense work on getting an out immediately following a walk, and your offense hitting to the opposite field more consistently with runners in scoring position?
- Hitting it Hard – it’s not realistic to expect your pitcher to throw a shutout every single game. That kind of pressure will eventually destroy her, and yet that’s what so many softball teams expect. 1 run by the opponents and the dugout gets nervous. Instead, the better your offense – and by this I don’t just mean you stand there and smash homeruns – the less pressure on both your pitcher as well as your defense. Your offense needs to be built on the strength of your team. Are you fast – then RUN your opponents into losses. Are you a good short game team – then master placement and the push bunt and destroy your opponents at the space vs base game. Or are you a patient team with great eyes – then draw those walks, get on base and put pressure on the opposing pitcher to throw strikes that you then hit to the opposite field. Whatever your team’s offensive strength is leverage it to help put offensive pressure on your opponents and relieve some pressure off your pitcher!
- Stay Low and Think Now – it’s too easy, when we suffer a couple losses early, or ugly wins to think we aren’t good enough. For us to pull our heads up and look too far down the road and say something like, “If we don’t fix this it’s going to kill us!” And while that might be true, a scarier statement was never uttered to a team. As coaches, you might think that motivates your players, but to players, a statement like that only scares the hell out of them. Your team doesn’t need you to be Captain Obvious by pointing out all the bad that can come from losing. They need a reason to continue fighting, to know that they can win the next battle and that they have what it takes to battle. Give them that strength. Keep your focus point low-to-the-ground and fix today’s problem, always knowing there will be a “today’s problem”. Tomorrow is just that – tomorrow, not today. When it comes, be stronger!
- The Answer Guy or Gal – instead of being the person that’s always pointing out what’s wrong with your team, your role as a coach is to find answers and create solutions! Your team needs that from you. Your knowledge and experience far surpass anyone on your team so use both of those and detail the main problems then set about finding solutions. Doing so will not only make you feel better but will calm and reassure your team as well – who will then immediately start playing better. And sometimes, that’s all it takes for the problem to be solved.
- Stay Patient – this might be the toughest one. Know that losses happen because your opponent has worked as hard in the offseason as you have, and they’re trying to win as badly as you are. So why shouldn’t they win sometimes? Well the answer is, they should. So fix the issues that need fixing, keep the small things small, give your opponents credit when deserved and most of all – stay calm and carry on. It’s a LONG season that requires you to be better at the end than you were at the beginning. Sure, it hurts your RPI to lose games early on, but unless you learn from them and use them to help your team build toward being stronger in conference play, then what you’re doing is carrying each loss around with you and dragging it into every single game you play – pretty much ensuring it will happen again, and again, and again.
- Beware the Anarchists – not everyone reacts well to losing and those players with limited playing time, or with a negative inclination will seize this opportunity to create a following. Anarchy only thrives when it has numbers, so know that a losing environment is like warmth to mold so keep your eyes peeled coaches, do your best to keep the anarchists separated from the general population – and – kill their message with kindness and optimism.
For more help on turning those early losses into later season wins, check out the following:
- Book: The Ultimate Softball Practice Guide
- eBook: The Ultimate Softball Practice Guide (for practice ideas NOW)
- eClinic: Critical Counts: How to Stop the Walks (for answers to pitch calling puzzles)
- eClinic: How to Hit in Games Like You Do in Practice (for solutions to why your team kills it in practice but doesn’t hit like that in games)
- Vault Classic™ (for everything you need to handle what the season throws you)