We’re Not That Bad

“When you play long enough, everybody goes through spells and streaks and slumps of some nature. I think it’s just one of the those things where you have to play yourself out of it.”
Mark Messier

Losing streaks.
I suck. 
You suck.
He sucks.
We suck…….

Everyone. Every team. Every sport. Every season. 
There always has been losing streaks and slumps and there always will be. Teams lose just a sliver of confidence, coaches and players start to press, and soon 1 or 2 losses becomes losing 7 out of 8 or 10 out of 13……..It is just part of the game and one of the challenges both players and coaches must confront and deal with to find a way to get back to winning. Currently, the team I am helping coach is going through one of those tough patches. Things just aren’t clicking. But I do know that we will get through it and be better because of it.

 “If you have a positive attitude and constantly strive to give your best effort, eventually you will overcome your immediate problems and find you are ready for greater challenges.”
  Pat Riley

Believe me…..I have seen my share of losing streaks. At the time they seemed horrible but looking back I now realize there were tremendous lessons learned from those times. 
That is what this blog is going to focus on today. 
One of the great blessings I have had in life has been to play for some great coaches as well as with some incredible players. They shared a lot of their wisdom when it comes to dealing with slumps. They gave me some ideas as well as some quotes from some legendary coaches.

“Show me someone who has done something worthwhile, and I’ll show you someone who has overcome adversity.” Lou Holtz

First some amusing stories about losing streaks, if that is even ok to say….
Once upon a time I played for for the expansion Ottawa Senators. We were very challenged with some young and inexperienced players and simply just not a very good hockey team. At one point of the disastrous season, we were on a 14 game losing streak. One game we were losing after two periods to the Boston Bruins 6-0 and it should have been 12-0…. An older, veteran player on the team stands up amid the chaos of the dressing room and screams the following:
“Guys, guys…..sit down!!! Relax, we have to settle down……..We are not that bad! We are not that bad!……..We just play in a really good league!!!!!…….” Needless to say that broke up some of the tension.

 “How you respond to the challenge in the second half will determine what you become after the game, whether you are a winner or a loser.” Lou Holtz

Danny Ozark, manager of the Philadelphia Phillies was once asked by a reporter what he thought of his team during a losing streak.”It is beyond my apprehension.”
One time coach of the Vancouver Canucks, Harry Neale was famous for saying, “Last season we couldn’t win at home. This season we can’t win on the road. My failure as a coach is I can’t think of any place else to play.”  
John McKay was the coach of the then expansion team Tampa Bay Buccaneers of the NFL. They were absolutely horrible when they first entered the league and were on a huge losing streak. When asked, “Coach, what do you think of your team’s execution today?” McKay quipped, “I’m all for it”. These are funny quotes but anyone who has ever coached can surely relate.

“Losing streaks are funny. If you lose at the beginning you got off to a bad start. If you lose in the middle of the season, you’re in a slump. If you lose at the end, you’re choking.” Gene Mauch

So what can coaches do about slumps or losing streaks? The common thing that I was told was to try to find a way to re-create confidence but don’t over-coach. There is no sense trying to install a new forecheck system or powerplay when the team is not in a good frame of mind to learn anything new. Just try to get back to basics in practice and be as repetitive with simple things as possible. Doing the little things correctly will help build back the confidence that players need to play well. 

“It’s the little details that are vital. Little things make big things happen. ” John Wooden

Another tip for the coaches…….Stay calm. If you exude confidence, your team will get its own back. It’s just a matter of time, practice and trying to remain patient. Remember coaches, we are not only teaching players how to overcome adversity in the game but also in life.

“If you’re going to make every game a matter of life or death, you’re going to have a lot of problems. For one thing, you’ll be dead a lot.” Dean Smith

Now some advice for the players who might be going through some tough times.

 “Slump? I ain’t in no slump — I just ain’t hitting.” Yogi Berra

It is important to realize the reality of the situation and address it. Yes you are playing bad or the team is struggling but this happens during a season and you will need to do a few things to adjust. But realize that it is only a small snapshot of the entire year.

You’re never as good as everyone tells you when you win, and you’re never as bad as they say when you lose.” Lou Holtz

One of the common pieces of advice that good players shared with me was that you need to stop pressing. Relax and get back to having fun playing. Easier said than done right?? But remember, that is the reason everyone started playing in the beginning correct? To have fun. Being in a slump is not fun, so combat that by trying to find a way to enjoy the game again. I am not in any way discounting the importance of hard work. That is clearly the most important trait of any great player is their ability to work hard and work their way through tough times. There is no substitute for that. But what has to happen is that work has to become ‘fun’. The amount of work must be looked upon as an enjoyable way to fix your problems……. You know you have to work out of the slump but why not have fun doing it? Do you ever remember being six or seven years old and being in a slump? No. You were just playing. Having fun. Strive to get that feeling back. If you can, focus on the times you played really well. If possible watch video of you and your team playing well and having success. Now that is fun!

“You’ve got to be careful if you don’t know where you’re going cause you might not get there.” Yogi Berra

Much like coaches, players should try to simplify during these times. Get back to some very basic things. Just make the most simple of plays. Over and over and over again until things start to get better and confidence returns. Practice hard, but routinely do something simple with perfection and that will slowly and surely translate into the rest of your game.

“Keep it simple, when you get too complex you forget the obvious. “ Al Maguire

I hope this helps both coaches and players out there alike in some small way. Slumps are never fun but they are also never fatal.

I also really hope our players read this blog………we are running out of places to play! 🙂

“Life’s battles don’t always go to the stronger or faster man. Sooner or later the man  who wins is the man who thinks he can.” Vince Lombardi

And remember, every team goes through stuff…..

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