Keep the Faith

Monday, April 23, 2012

By Peter Schwab
Brisbane Lions Head of Coaching and Development

Football seasonís that donít start well are hard to turn around, unless you are confident that the systems you are implementing will eventually work or more important the playing list is still talented enough. Or the other big factor in being successful is avoiding injuries and having your entire player list available.

When assessing performance it is a combination of many connecting factors, with some more vital than others. The chance of success is higher when you have the talent for the level of competition you are in. You also need to have a committed group of players and staff, a system of play the players understand and embrace and that they believe can help them win, a lot of luck with avoiding injuries and a fixture which assists you.

At any level of football if a team loses thatís fine, it may be a multitude of factors which can be overcome, but if their collective ability cannot match their competitors there is little you can do. It is only when ability does not match expectation that questions are asked.

One of the secrets of performance is managing expectation within a sporting team. High expectation always brings pressure to a team and individual. It is only the great sportspeople and teams who can consistently deal with the pressure of expectation.

If you have little or no expectation then you will create an environment where learning and developing will be stifled. Just as dealing with high expectation can be difficult, dealing with low expectation can be demoralising.

So if you have started the season in losing form, analyse whether it is a short term form slump or long term issue. Defining a form slump is not clear. Hawthorn and St.Kilda coach Allan Jeans had a definition for consistency which I felt always explained how a performance slump can be avoided. He defined consistency in performance as limiting the gap between your best and worst performance.

He is correct, more inconsistent teams and players are likely to suffer a performance slump. A good player or coach can be measured by how often and how long they can keep themselves or the team at or near their best. Michael Malthouse as former coach of Collingwood and Jimmy Bartel as a player are clear examples of consistent performers.

No-one has the answers to stopping a slump, but there are strategies to assist. As a player it is your personal responsibility to do everything you can to regain your form by assessing all your behaviours starting with fitness work, skills, attitude, lifestyle and desire before searching for reasons outside of your control. If you are honest it is rare to find the answer outside of yourself.

This is not to diminish the role of the coach or support staff in assisting a player to recover form and confidence. A systematic approach supported by feedback from coach and staff is essential.

In my view if the team or individual is fit they should have the foundation to compete and a coach should reinforce this as a positive with the individual and team. Often this is undone by playing injured players or rushing back good performers from injury too quickly. This is an easy trap to fall into by coaches and a team under pressure and it is fraught with danger. Even great players cannot perform well if injured or lacking match fitness.

The other difficult aspect for a coach, rather than a player, when the team is losing, is to keep faith in what they are trying to achieve with the team. When losses mount the pressure builds on what is being done or has not been done. It is a good process to assess and review but the real issue is restoring faith amongst the group. The coaching staff needs to come up with ways to engender confidence.

Goal setting may need to become more immediate and in some ways easier. An example may be as simple as training well. Encourage form on the track. In a game start by talking about the first quarter and playing well for that period, once that has been achieved re-focus on the second quarter. In essence shift the focus from the final outcome to more short term achievable targets.

From personal experience it is difficult to maintain a positive frame of mind and approach when the losses mount, but the worst thing for a coach or player to do is to succumb to frustration and disappointment. It is necessary to remain positive. Talk in terms of what was achieved and what can be built on. Any negativity lets an excuse mentality develop.

Not all teams will come through the performance slump or indeed have many wins in a season, but as long as you can continue to find positives, discover systems and processes which have worked and remember that nothing is permanent unless you let it be. 

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