Jeff Mitchell – Community Coach Advisor – Sport Auckland / GACU
Coaching a team through the final stages of a season can be tough. If winning the title is in your sights then it can be hard to keep your focus on player development and your process goals. If you are out of the running for the championship then just motivating your athletes to turn up and train hard can be a challenge. Towards the end of the season staleness can start to appear, as it becomes harder to keep trainings fresh and intense.
These are some of the challenges you face when coaching a team through the final few games of a season. To address these challenges you must find ways to motivate your athletes to keep training hard and trying to improve. To motivate your players you need to examine how you approach the final training sessions and games.
For your sessions to run smoothly you need your athletes to be motivated and working hard. To continue to improve your players need to be motivated to train hard. And to get the results required your athletes must – you guessed it – be motivated to work hard.
You can tell when your players are motivated. They turn up to training, they work hard, they try to achieve their goals and they continue to improve. So how do you motivate your athletes during the final stages of the season? To motivate them you need to understand what the objectives of the final stages of the season are.
Objectives of the final stages of the season
The last few games and training sessions are highly important. As such, it is important that your athletes are motivated to make the most of them. The final stages of the season will have the following objectives:
• to achieve the team’s season objectives
• to put into practice everything the team has been learning and developing
• to have fun
• to set a platform for the following season.
You can motivate your players by making sure that your sessions are meeting these objectives. This will ensure that your final few sessions are productive. To achieve this you need to be targeted with how you approach your training sessions and your games.
Before you deliver a training session it is important that you plan what you will do. The starting point for your planning is your session objectives, which will determine your focus for the session. They should tie into the overall objectives for the season and also your objectives for the upcoming game.
Deciding what to focus on in your final training sessions can be difficult. What can you do if the season is already lost? Having a clear focus for each session, linked to your objectives, makes it much easier to plan each session. To determine the objectives and topics for a session you could ask yourself:
• what will help you to achieve your season objectives?
• what will you be focusing on in the next game?
• what areas do the players need to improve in?
• what areas do the players wish to improve in?
• what have the players enjoyed doing?
Towards the end of the season it is important to ensure that training sessions are fun. A good way to do this is to ask the players which topics and activities they have enjoyed. Players also like to have a say in what they do in training. Getting the players’ input into what they wish to work on is another good way to motivate them.
It is relatively easy to maintain motivation when the competition is still alive or while the team’s objectives can still be achieved. Keeping the team motivated when they cannot be achieved is much harder. To manage this you need to take your approach to training into your games as well.
“What counts is not the number of hours you put in but how much you put into those hours.”
Your players should try to win every game they play. However, just focusing on the result is not enough, especially if your team can no longer win their competition. To keep games meaningful you need to provide the team with a focus for each game.
Games are the best opportunity for players to put into practice what they have done in training. The focus for the last few games should be for the players to show what they have learnt. Take this opportunity to encourage the players to focus on using what they have been learning, and celebrate when they are successful.
Each game should have a focus based on your objectives and what you have been working on in training. This focus could be possession, scoring, creating scoring chances, defensive play, the use of certain skills, or any other aspect of your sport. Set goals around your focus area, linked to what you have been doing in training. Use your team talks to discuss the focus area, and give players feedback regarding how they perform in this area.
The last few games of the season are a good time to make sure that all of your players have had fair game time. Another idea is to allow players to experiment in positions that they do not usually play. Provided you have not put the focus solely on winning, they will enjoy the challenge of trying and learning a new position.
The last few games of the season can be hard work as a coach. They will be even harder if you cannot achieve the results you were after. By taking a focused approach to games and trainings, and reinforcing the improvements your players have made, you can ensure that the last few games are productive and that your players are motivated.