Win, Lose, Learn

By Randy Traeger
Head Football Coach Oregon

“Winning is a great deodorant. When you win, you smell great and everybody loves you. When you lose, you stink and people don’t want to be around you.”
     So you are probably going to go 0-9 this season? Sure, you are planning on keeping things positive for the kids and you have shined up your “it’s a building season” lines, but is there anything else you can do to ease the pain of a losing season?  Or, are you just going to sit back and become a victim of circumstances when your team is blessed with few players and little athletic talent?  
     Sports is not just about winning and losing.  We need to look at sports from a third angle. Learning.
You can win, you can lose, you can learn.   Let’s explore some ways that you can lose on the scoreboard week in and week out, and still come out winners at the end of the season by “learning”.
1. Educate your players, parents, administrators and fans that you are teaching these young men or women
    about being formed in the fire of affliction.  About how tribulations produce perseverance, and how 
    perseverance produces character. That everything you do this season will be towards the goal of using 
    the impending athletic struggle to build the character of your players.
2. Your team probably isn’t going to get their pictures in the paper for winning a lot of games. There are  
    other ways to get their picture in the paper. How about creating alternative success opportunities in the  
    community rather than on the athletic field ?  How about seeking news worthy “virtue” victories?
     a. Take on a really challenging community service or charitable works project. What if you spent more
         time working on the charity project than you did practicing? Heck, you are probably going to get
         butts handed to you on Friday night anyhow, why not spend some time doing some good for people
         instead of wasting time trying to turn a pigs ear into a silk purse!
     b. Have your players focus on doing deliberate acts of virtue and random acts of kindness throughout
         the school, at home, and in the community. Recognize and reward these behaviors by players. 
     c. Focus on your team’s scholastic achievement. Finish in the top ten scholastically in your  
         classification.  Hold study halls, give out weekly academic team awards to players. 
     d. Invite teachers to your weekly team awards ceremony and give teachers a small award to going 
         above and beyond the call of duty in helping a player with his academic studies. 
3.  Have coaches set a great example of how to handle losing. How do they act during and after a    
     humiliating loss? Remember, the kids are watching you closely to learn how to handle defeat.
4.  Don’t abandon your core values. Re-visit them often and hold your coaches and players accountable.
     Make sure that player behavior standards are held high, don’t let this slip out of control.
5.  Help your coaches and players control their emotions in the face of defeat.

6.  Stay positive and be energetic. Don’t let losing get you down. Remember, they are watching you.
7.  Adjust your goals. Set realistic game goals than can be met. Reward the team for making these goals.
     (i.e. hold the opponent to under 25 points, give up less than 200 yards rushing, no penalties, etc.)
8.  Take your communication with players, parents, and administrators to an all time high.  The more
     communication the better in a season full of losses.
9.  Use each loss as a learning opportunity. Analyze each defeat to make positive improvements to 
     individual and team play. Seize the teachable moments of each loss and capitalize on them.
10. Remember that with losing seasons, you will have some fair weather players quit. Don’t take this
     personally. Be prepared for it, and re-group quickly.
11. Do more team building outside activities than you normally would. Swimming, bowling, movies, 
      BBQ’s, you name it.  Spend time having fun together. Kids are going to remember bowling night
      10 years from now, more than they are going to remember that 49-0 defeat.
12. Start younger players of equal talent to Seniors. It will pay off in the long run. Yes, this is a political
      bomb, but try and diffuse the explosion by having the Senior mentor that younger player and take him
      on as a legacy to his position. Give the Senior another role and convince him that it is in his best
13. Make practices fun and engaging. Use “Fun Drills” every night to keep things light. 
     Finally, remember that during losing seasons, it is natural for coaches to want to communicate less than usual, retreat into their caves, surround themselves with loved ones, and avoid contact with parents, fans, and administrators. You have got to fight this urge. Don’t retreat, get more aggressive with
those “off the field” victories. You will earn a new level of respect from parents, teachers, fans, and 
administrators and your players will “win” in the long run.