How to Help Your Youth Football Team Recover from a Loss
Probably the most difficult part of youth sports—for players, coaches, and parents—is dealing with a big loss, especially if it’s a season-ending contest or a blowout. The disappointment can be overwhelming, and young athletes are likely to feel angry, embarrassed, and confused when they lose. And while you can’t make a bad loss disappear, good coaching can turn the disappointment into a valuable learning experience.
Take a Deep Breath
The first thing to do is step back. Take a deep breath. Allow the players a little time to cool off. Emotions are running high, and the temptation will be to jump in and address the situation immediately. Don’t do it. One of the most effective ways kids cope with a loss is through camaraderie with their teammates. They are all in the same boat and can do a lot to console each other. If this happens, pat yourself on the back—it’s immensely gratifying and a sign of a well-coached team.
It’s better, however, if the coaches do talk with the team before parents step in. At this point, remember to always keep the coaching positive (which isn’t easy, especially as you are dealing with your own disappointment). Don’t challenge the players’ motivation or desire to win. If they didn’t care about the outcome of the game, they wouldn’t be so upset after a loss.
A Positive Atmosphere
Talk about the bright spots of the game—the plays that worked well, the efforts that paid off. And give credit to the opposition. They outplayed your team, and the game was won because they did better, not necessarily because your team failed. Never pin the loss on specific plays or players. The last thing you want to do is embarrass an athlete. If you do, you’ve likely lost this kid for good. Of course, you can’t pretend the positives outweighed the negatives. But you can focus on building kids up instead of tearing them down.
And always remember that the post-defeat meeting is no place to start teaching technique. Avoid the tendency to describe how tackling needs to improve, for example. Or how if routes were sharper or if the pass rush were quicker the team would have done better. Save this talk for the next practice if there is one. The players are in no frame of mind to learn technique immediately after a big defeat.
The Value of Losing
It’s been said that Vince Lombardi would work his players much harder in practice after a win than he would after a loss. He likely knew the value of mistakes and the difficulty of dealing with complacency. Success in sports isn’t easy, and your team won’t improve if they don’t make mistakes. Undefeated football seasons are rare for a reason.
Just about every successful team—and certainly every star player—screws up somewhere, or was simply outplayed. What makes a team successful is how it responds to a defeat.