As we approach the end of the year for spring sports across the country, coaches will be trying to scramble together to find encouraging words, a special workout, or hope for last-second inspiration that will help give their team the extra advantage that it needs to perform at its best when it matters most. But finding inspiration from watching Rocky for the 50th time won’t make much of a difference. Neither will one training session or the big rah-rah speech.
After being lucky enough to spend the majority of my life around teams that compete at the very last competitions of the year [aka championship time], I have concluded that coaches of winning teams do the following at this crucial time in the season:
First, they emphasize the importance of sleep. If your team is alive at this part of the season, odds are is that they have played lots of games. They have spent time on buses, dealing with classes, and hours upon hours have been spent practicing both the body and the skill that the sport demands. During this pre-championship time, sleep [unfortunately] is hard to come by. Great championship coaches understand that in order to be at one’s peak, more sleep is a must. Sleep [simply put] allows the body to recover and gives the active mind a break. Getting the team up early in the AM to do an extra walk-through will not nearly pay-off as much as giving them another few hours of rest. And this is not just for them, it is for you too.
Second, great championship time realize that no big speech is going to be the difference between winning and losing. Your time is best spent on making sure that your team is ready, not spending time getting ready to make that big speech. If your team needs a big rah-rah moment before the big game, it should be handled by the players themselves - that will help bring them together [remember, this time of the year is about them, not about you]. I am not suggesting that you go radio silent. What I am suggesting [and what we will get into more in our final point], is that the more that you spend time focusing what your players need to perform well in preparation for the moment [sleep, a better understanding of the game plan, etc.] the better off that you will be. Great speeches that make teams play well only happen in the movies. Don’t try to be a character from a movie you like - continue to try to be yourself, that is what got your there.
Lastly, coaches that win at the end of the year get their teams to focus on the moment. The majority of athletes, especially ones who are having their first championship experience, have a hard time staying focused on the task at hand. Most of the time, they will think about what will happen if they don’t win. They will make up stories in their head about how they may never have this chance again, how scholarships maybe lost, and what their family will do or say if they don’t get it done. There is nothing that was just said that could be more of a waste of time for your team to think about. Great coaches get their teams to think about what their specific job is, the process, of what needs to happen right then and their. And that giving their best effort, that is under control and purposeful, will give them the best opportunity to win. After all, if your group puts in the best effort that they can and still does not end up on top, although that pill will be hard to swallow, there is nothing more that you can ask for.
Remember that the end of the season is not about you as a coach - it is about getting the people that are on your team and staff to be at their very best. Letting go of some ego and making everything about the people around not only will get everyone to perform better, but it will allow you to be at your peak also. Because if you are not ready, they won’t be either.