By: Ryan Lancaster
"The leader is the mortar in the bricks of a group when the winds of losing, struggle, and failure howl.” - Seth Davis
“How you think when you lose will determines how long it will be until you win.”- GK Chesterton
“At such moments, the Warrior of the Light is not concerned with results. He examines his heart and asks: ‘Did I fight the good fight?’ If the answer is ‘yes,’ he can rest. If the answer is ‘no,’ he picks up his sword and begins training all over again.” —Paulo Coelho, Warrior of the Light.
Everyone Wants to Win, But Not Everyone Can
There is little doubt that winning is a program element that will help attract fans to local dual meets and tournaments. However, the reality is that only one team can win the state title, 8 that can finish in the top 8, and 10 that can put themselves in the final team rankings. This means that there is a limit to the number of programs at each division that can rely on winning to build attendance. Even when winning occurs and is the sole emphasis, you limit the opportunity to attract casual fans such as high school students who are not familiar with wrestling. The bottom line is that there are no wrestling programs that would not benefit from investing in a more entertaining environment at local competitions.
It hurts to lose. Athletes and coaches make considerable sacrifices to succeed in their sport. They expend a lot of effort in their preparation, from the start of the off-season right up until match time, so it’s easy for losing to feel like failing. And when losses start piling up, it’s easy to feel like the world is crashing down. As hard as it may be and as much as people will resist this, it’s vital to stay positive and stay the course to get out of the losing streak and ultimately get better from experience. Getting the athletes to understand and “trust the process” is crucial to their overall success and development. Losing streaks come in a couple of forms: several consecutive losses to several teams or the inability to beat one particular group over a long period.
Why is leading well while losing important? The core of leadership and your character is needed during losing periods. Is the team good? Stay clear of pitfalls as long as you can. Is the team average? Then you must be as competent as you can to improve. Is the team bad? Then you must demonstrate character, and stay committed to the process. As a coach, nothing is more demoralizing than a losing streak that won't break. While we do our absolute best to avoid losing streaks, performance slumps, or even the prospect of our team underachieving, it doesn't mean we can avoid the topic; it's too important.
Whichever type of losing streak you might have experienced, it can have a devastating effect on how you approach a match. If you are facing a team that has had your number over the past several years, you may approach the match with a great deal of trepidation instead of being excited for the challenge of ending the streak. When you buy into history repeating itself, you are conceded defeat even before the whistle blows. This mindset heaps pressure on you, and the accompanying anxiety becomes overwhelming.
Your overarching goal is to be the leader your people want around when it is all going wrong. When the team walks onto the mats for warm-up, do not throw a pity party and feed into the negativity. Often, the coach is the “energy-giver.” Embrace this role and give the team the boost they need. It’s time to move on and get ready for the next step. The past is the past. Learn from it, improve on it, and ultimately put it in the rearview mirror.
Often the worst part of being on a losing run is not pinpointing precisely what is going wrong. A tell-tale sign of a team that can't break a losing drought moves their focus away from the things they can control and onto things they can't, like officials' decisions, equipment malfunctioning, transport delays, and many more. Self-awareness is a vital component for long-term success in sport. It would be best to do a thorough assessment of each element of your program and what areas are falling short. What happens on match day is often not the cause of the losing streak. Often it is something that's happened in the preseason, it's grown, and now it costs you. You have to consistently assess what is and isn't working for the program. It would be best if you thought of high-performance not as an event that occurs but a process tinkered with until the right formula is found.
The weight room needs to be a haven for the athletes. It needs to be a place where they know they can get better and step away from the pressures of their matches for a little while, especially in-season. They say that doing a round of cardio is the best anti-depressant medicine, so why not make the weight room a place where your athletes can get better while enjoying themselves? The world will not end because you lost a dual.
Are wrestlers on your team being held accountable for their actions? If your team is aware of the values and behaviors underpinning the program's collective goals but is falling short in some areas, then it's time to have some honest, one-on-one conversations with the athletes involved. It's also important to note here that this doesn't just go for technical areas of wrestling. Changing technique is the easy part of coaching compared to the challenges of understanding, motivating, and keeping your athletes on track.
It is important to stress to the individuals you suspect of falling short in their behavioral standards that every action they do forms a representation of the program's identity. Some teams don't see themselves as a championship team, even when they start the season well, because their identity is not that of a winning team; they find a way to create their losing streak because of this belief. Assuming you have set out from the start of the season the particular identity you want the team to embody, then it is imperative you consistently apply this. The advantage of focusing on the team identity is that even when you have one-on-one conversations with your wrestlers, it will lower the athlete's risk of being personally attacked.
The day after a tough loss is always going to be the hardest, especially when you have to turn around and wrestle again in twenty-four hours. The team is typically tired, upset, and lacking the motivation to do anything that requires effort. Coaches are working hard to learn from the mistakes from the night before and planning to get the team ready to play the next day.
The following is the “6 Don’t and Do’s of Struggling Successfully” by Chris Hobbs
Don’t Be Optimistic, Be Hopeful. An optimistic sometimes pouts unrealistic expectations and a timetable to success, when there is really no way to back those sentiments. “Don’t worry, we have a great freshman class coming in so we will win a state title in four years” can actually end up being a toxic mindset, as many other factors do play into that. But a hopeful person rests on the system they have put into place and focuses on the intangible victories, like athletes getting better and enjoying the sport.
Don’t Be the Weatherman; Be the Weather. This is just a fancy way of saying that the world and outside forces can change your situation. Don’t guess or predict the future, actively take part in changing the outcome.
Don’t Focus on Your Failures; Study the Failures of Successful Groups. It’s easy to get down on yourself as a leader if you do not meet expectations. But dwelling on this only makes it worse. Instead, focus positive energy into programs that have found ways to succeed and see if you can borrow some of the energy.
Don’t Doubt Because of Today; Believe Because of “Yet.” It’s very easy to lose focus while losing. You may not have won that dual against a top 8 team in the state, but remember that the future is not set, and all empires eventually crumble (including yours).
Don’t Be So Distracted By Problems That You Lose Focus On Purpose. Why are you a coach exactly? Just to win the state title? Break records? Or to build a love and passion for the sport that gave you so much?
Don’t Let Go of The Ropes; Hold On To Prove Your Purpose. Parents, assistant coaches, and even the wrestlers eventually will tell you that you need to make dynamic changes to the plan to win right now. But don’t forget the bigger picture of building a culture that can consistently win.
Other concepts to also remember during a losing streak:
Focus on Execution – Don’t worry about how the dual might end. Instead, focus on executing the wrestling strategy. Completing your plan will give you the greatest chance for victory.
Overcome Generalizations – You can’t buy into the idea that “we always lose to this team” or we are on a losing streak. This way of thinking can become overwhelming and toxic for a team.
Nameless or Numberless – Don’t label your opponents as a team that has your number. Treat them as another team that you’ll play to your strengths to win the game. Many wrestlers know the concept of ranking meaning nothing. And while I will admit that rankings are an educated opinion of an athlete or team and to a certain degree they do matter, the actuality is the ranking should have no bearing on the athlete out on the mat.
It must be noted that historically most great leaders proved their point during a period of losing: Gandhi, Mother Theresa, and Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are all prime examples.
All coaches are hired. fired, or retired. Those are things you can't control so enjoy the process. You can always focus on the little or the pyrrhic victories that are out there. Breaking a losing streak is hard. Often it is the non-technical rather than the technical elements of your program holding your team back, and these can be difficult to navigate as a coach. But if you are coaching at the highest level, the reality is that it is non-technical and is what you will spend most of your time on. It is managing culture, leadership, interpersonal relationships, conflict, and communication.
Cohn, Patrick. "How to Overcome a Losing Streak in Sports." Peak Performance Sports. Accessed April 29, 2021. https://www.peaksports.com/sports-psychology-blog/how-to-overcome-a-losing-streak-in-sports/.
Conley, Spencer. “BSN SPORTS - "Remember Why You Coach Series: Part 3 with Motivational Speaker Spencer Conley” BSN Sports. Zoom Meeting on May 10, 2021.
Golden, Jeremy. "How to Deal with Adversity and Trust Your Process During a Difficult Season." Simplifaster. Accessed April 29, 2021. https://simplifaster.com/articles/coaching-solutions-losing-season/.
Hanson, Bo. "How to Break a Losing Streak." Athlete Assessments. Accessed April 29, 2021. https://www.athleteassessments.com/how-to-break-a-losing-streak/.
Hobbs, Chris. “BSN SPORTS - "How to Lead Even While Losing with Coach Chris Hobbs” BSN Sports. Zoom Meeting on April 22, 2021.