Posted by: Luis Zuazua

The word “adversity” has been used to describe many different things. According to Webster’s Dictionary, the definition of adversity is “A state of hardship or affliction, or a calamitous event.” In the world of sports, adversity usually goes hand in hand with success, and failure. Learning how to deal with adversity can be difficult and not every player or coach will deal with it in the same way.

When adversity occurs, the initial reaction is a feeling of helplessness, anger, or hurt. An injury to a teammate or the loss of a game in the waning seconds is an example of adversity. When it first happens, there are no immediate cures or pep talks that can help alleviate the pain. This is a critical stage that has to be overcome by the individual player. As a coach, you sometimes can make matters worse by showing too much emotion at this stage. It is easy to say things out of frustration or anger that can damage the team. The same goes for the players . Speaking emotionally, athletes can do or say things that will negatively affect the team. It is important that you know who these particular athletes are and help them see the whole picture of the team concept. You need to be able to identify your true team leaders. They are the ones who will help reinforce your vision of “the big picture” and help the players to deal with the adversity. Trust is the main attribute you must maintain during this time. For example, if your leading scorer is a vocal person and a leader then you must spend quality time, one-on-one with that player, to make sure he understands exactly what are your expectations of him and of the team. If, on the other hand, your star player is quiet and shy, then you need to bring the most trusted player on the team to a joint meeting with the leading scorer and then share your expectations with both of them. It is important to select a team member who is trusted by both his teammates and by you, the coach.

After the initial feelings of anger or frustration comes the “blaming stage.” Some athletes are going to blame themselves totally for a loss or a particular incident. When a player has this much burden or guilt on his or her shoulders, they cannot reach their optimum level of performance. This has to be dealt with by the coach. One way is to talk with the player and ask him to express why he feels the way he does. As coaches we have to be excellent communicators and lead that player to conclude on his own that what really matters for everyone is the health of the team. Players will blame each other at times of adversity, which can tear a team down faster than anything else. If you have this problem with your team it usually means there is some selfishness involved and you have to face this issue head on. One way to deal with this is to institute team-building exercises in your practice sessions. It has been my experience that you don’t tell the team what you are trying to accomplish. Perception is everything. Let the players see things, as they perceive them. Put the players in conflict together in a competitive drill, one that you are certain they will successfully complete. For example, put the two players who are at odds with each other on the same 2-on-2 team. Make sure this is a drill that they will do well, but not complete too easily. By working together, they will develop confidence, reestablishing the bond they once had. Having confidence in fellow teammates is good for teamwork and a to have an happy team. There will be times when players come to blame the coach or the system he uses for the times they are experiencing. When this happens, it’s because they are hearing things from outside. At the college, I find that parents are the ones who put the ideas into their son’s heads. Trust is the key word here. You have to develop a sense of trust between you and your staff . It is important that this trust be developed before adversity sets in. Never deceive your team. Be truthful when talking with your team about the competition. We sometimes think as coaches that we have to make the other team seem like an all-star team every night to get our team pumped up and ready to play. This can lead to mistrust at an early stage. It can seem like a very small point but these types of things can add up. Make sure you have small success areas that you can develop and point out to your team during the season. Athletes have to have some success in order to see the whole picture. This can help things when adversity does set in. I have always admitted my mistakes to my team. I really feel like that lets them know that you are a part of the team and that you are accountable and trying to improve yourself.

The last stage of dealing with adversity comes to channeling your emotions and letting them drive you to overcome any obstacle. Once you have overcome the first two stages you have succeeded in becoming a true coach. Now it is time to reap the rewards of success. The great teams have learned to deal with adversity and turned negative situations into positive ones. As a coach, you have to remind players to take any feelings of failure, anguish, or hurt and channel those emotions into effort and concentration. Don’t overload them with talk. Let them feel it themselves with gentle reminders. Remember perception is reality. What you feel and what your team feels may be two different things. If you have succeeded in channeling the emotion of the team into good effort and concentration in practice then you should be ready to reap the rewards. My philosophy is based on competing at a level where emotion meets execution. When this happens great things occur. I have seen it in many “big games”. One team comes with a great amount emotion early only to fall apart in the later stages of the game. I have also seen teams who executed very well on the court only to lose to a team that made great emotional plays late in the game. A team should have a perfect balance between emotion and execution. A coach deals with many emotions that are hard to keep in check. The exhilaration of success and anguish of defeat can be unbearable. When you deal with young athletes, anything can happen. It can make you question your own abilities as a coach, parent, spouse, or, even at times, a human being. Trust in your abilities to be a leader. If you have confidence in yourself, other people will as well.

Author: Eric Foister