You work with a set of players for months to shape and mold a season. In order to help your team succeed you spend endless hours designing practices, drills and plays. There are always both ups and down in the time you spend, and at one point the team ultimately becomes a family. Sooner or later, this special group ultimately must come to an end.
Now the day has come and the last buzzer has gone off. Some games end more dramatically than others do. However, for every team except one in a postseason tournament, the inevitable does eventually happen.
Your season comes to an end.
It’s like being hit with cold water in your face. You walk into your locker room, searching for words to comfort your team with. You might or might not have been prepared for your elimination from the tournament, depending on what your postseason expectations had been. Coaches usually have a pretty good sense of when this might happen, but nobody wants to get a speech prepared for this circumstance.
This moment, for the seniors, will probably be one of the more painful memories of their time spent with your program. For most of them, it is the harsh reality that their career has come to end. Their teammates, whom they’ve played with for years, will all be leaving to head out in different directions. All of them will be entering into a new chapter in their lives, and nothing will ever be the same again.
The actions and words that you use have the potential to both teach and comfort. Each player will have those words etched into their memories as they recall the time they have spent participating in your program. For coaches, this can be among the most powerful speeches you will ever give, and you need to deliver it while you are most likely in as much pain as your players are.
Each situation is unique. There really isn’t any specific set of instructions that exist for how you can handle this type of scenario, but it can help you get through this difficult and emotional time if you have some guidelines in mind. Here are some of the main guidelines for dealing with this tough time in your program:
Assess the damage
The coaches should get to the locker room as soon as possible. It is a very emotional time. Just the coaches presence alone can add a lot of stability to this emotional and difficult situation, and help to prevent any further emotional or physical damage from taking place.
Comfort the players that are having the hardest time
The first thing you should do is calm down any players who are showing any signs of violent anger. Next, work with those who are the most upset. It isn’t always necessary to even say anything to them. Sometimes all you need to do to calm them down is put your arm around them, place a hand on their shoulder or arm, or sometimes just a look in the eye is all it takes.
Bring the team together and then speak from your heart
Bring your team together once you think you have the situation under control. Gather them into an area that is comfortable and where you’ll be able to see everybody. Now comes the hard part. There isn’t any script for times like this. No matter what, your emotions are going to be racing. Even if you happen to be really good at keeping things together, most likely you will be faced with a few players at least that have tears in their eyes. Let your players know it is okay they are hurting and that you are too. Don’t talk about this specific game. What is more important right now is the journey and the season as a whole.
Do highlight the positive points from the season and point out the good things that happened that is making this such a hard thing for them. Let them know they will be okay. That isn’t what they want to hear, however it always helps to hear those words. Remind them that your program will always be their family and a home for them, and that what they will always remember is all the good experiences and times they had instead of how it came to an end. At last, tell your players how proud you are of them and thank them.
Urge your younger players to say thank you to the seniors.
What you say will affect your younger players, and it will carry over into next season. When they know their teammates will appreciate them when their final day comes, it will help to guide and motivate them.
Give your players the location and time of your next meeting.
Tell your players when you will be seeing them again. This could be for awards night, meeting for the end of the season, turning in equipment, and so on. This will make the finality of this situation less harsh. There’s no need for anyone to rush off at this point. Allow the players to take as much time as needed before leaving the locker room and going home.
Some seasons will be harder to handle, and some teams will have different reactions than other do. However, it is never easy to handle the end of this long journey. Be a resilient role model for your team. They are counting on you, and will learn from your example how to be resilient too.