Stephany C. Coakley PhD., LPC

Certified Mental Performance Consultant (CMPC)

(866) 277-3401

From the Bottom to the Top – Tips to Turn Your Team Around

How does a team maintain motivation when they’re in the grips of a losing streak? What does your team need to do to orchestrate a turn-around and create another type of streak – a winning streak?
Throughout the history of sport there have been numerous examples of teams who have reversed their fortunes, changing their identities from long suffering losers to perennial power houses. How about the Cleveland Cavaliers? For years they finished the season in last place. In 2016 however, they succeeded in orchestrating an historic turn-around. Once on the bottom, now they’re at the top of the NBA hierarchy. Now they are Champions, trying to defend their title. So, how did they do it?
There are multiple factors involved in a turn-around, but consider these tips to help your team maintain motivation and gain ground.

1. Reconnect with your purpose
Coaches and captains: take time to reflect on why your team dedicates so much physical, mental and emotional effort and energy toward your sport. Hint: the answer is not always just “to win”. Try these simple exercises to help your team reconnect with its purpose:
• First, challenge each athlete on the team to identify THREE reasons “why” they play for the team. “To win” may be one purpose, but others are just as important. You may discover multiple purposes that drive the members of the team: the key is to BRING THESE PURPOSES TOGETHER and use them as reminders when the team is struggling.
• Next, ask team members to work together to create a team creed or mantra. One example is the “row the boat” mantra instilled by Coach P. J Fleck, who transformed the University of Western Michigan’s football program into a conference power house with perennial bowl game appearances. He tells us that his purpose and coaching philosophy of “row the boat” honors the memory of his son. The mantra is symbolic of how the whole team works together to achieve its goals.
• Use your team mantra to drive towards a new reality, like the one Fleck and the Western Michigan Broncos created in 2016: with a 10 – 0 season, a Cotton Bowl victory over the Wisconsin Badgers – and a new job for Fleck, now Head Coach at the University of Minnesota. Team captains or coaches can instill a sense of purpose and team cohesion by consistently leading the team in a chant of the team creed or mantra before, during or after practice and games.

2. Focus on what you can control
In an ever-expanding world of social media content, 24-hour sports reporting and the emergence of fake news, it’s easy for athletes and teams to become distracted by what is on the internet or television. When your team has logged countless losses, and fans start to quit on you: focus on what you can control.
What are things that you can control?
• Effort in practice. The way your team practices is the way that your team will play. Are you “all in” when you practice? All the time? If not make a change. Consider using a mental cue like MAXOUT (100% effort, 100% commitment !00% of the time) as a reset if you realize that you are giving less than your best effort.
• Behavior – Are you taking care of the little things that make a big difference? If not, make a change. Choose to eat better, get adequate rest, set goals for practice daily and work towards achieving them. Spend 10 extra minutes a day working on an area that needs improvement. These are examples of behaviors that can help improve the team’s overall performance.
• Attitude – Commit to developing your mental game. Train your brain to think differently. To be the team that you are capable of being it is important to master not only the physical, but also the mental and emotional aspects of peak performance. Be intentional about practicing the mental skills to build confidence, maintain motivation, control emotions and foster optimism so that thinking like a champion will be automatic.

3. Practice gratitude
When your team is working hard in practice but your hard work doesn’t translate to wins, practice gratitude. This is probably the last thing that you want to do; pick out the good. In losing? Really? Yes. Practicing gratitude may seem senseless but this strategy has an abundance of turnaround-inducing benefits. People who practice gratitude daily possess higher levels of optimism. Optimistic people generally have better moods, better heath, are more creative, and have better outcomes. All these benefits stimulate increases in productivity, confidence, and hope for the future. Every game may not be a good game, but there is good in every game…find it! But how?
• Practice gratitude as a team every day, before practice and games. Consider hanging a bulletin board in the locker room or wherever your team meets and encourage athletes on your team to post things that they are grateful for during the season. For example, “my conditioning is paying off”, or “I made 70% of my free throws and that is an improvement”. At the end of the season your team will have a record of achievement and building blocks to use in preparation for the next season.

4. Envision success
Very often when a team experiences a slump there’s a tendency to perseverate on the mistakes and poor past performances. This is detrimental and only serves to reinforce poor performance. Instead of replaying nightmare performances, create a mental movie of the way that you want you and your team to play.
• Practice imagery as a part of your workout routine. Envision not only what you do (physical) but also how you think (mental) for perfect execution. See and feel yourself making the shot, hitting the home run, defending the goal. Incorporate all five senses for greater impact.
• Envision the outcomes that your team wants to ultimately achieve. Research supports the validity of imagery as a mental skill that leads to improvements in performances. In your mental movie, you should see a confident, determined, focused, composed and cohesive team playing not to lose the game, but to WIN.

There are many factors involved in turning a losing streak around, but it all starts with the mind. What do you believe your team is capable of? If your team is dealing with a losing streak and you want to orchestrate a turnaround, remember these tips: instill a sense of purpose in your team, and reinforce it regularly; focus on aspects of your preparation and performance that you can control; practice gratitude daily and above all, commit to envisioning your team’s success.

Your team has what it takes!

Stephany C. Coakley, PhD, LPC
Certified Sport Psychology Consultant
Telephone: 1-866-277-3401