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6 ways to help your team bounce back after a defeat

6 ways to help your team bounce back after a defeat

4 min read
  • Leadership & teamwork
  • Sport psychology

Most people in sports agree that momentum is important. For years, fans, pundits, coaches and players have stressed just how crucial it is for a team – but what happens when that momentum stops? How can a team overcome a loss or even series of losses and get back into a groove?

After Germany’s 0-1 defeat to France in their first match of the 2021 Euros, there is no doubt that the Germany football team (and their fans) will be asking themselves these questions ahead of the rest of the tournament. So, we thought we’d share with you our sport psychologists’ 6 favourite ways to help your team bounce back from failures:

Confidence is key

In sport, no other quality is so elusive yet so important. After losing, a team’s confidence is likely to suffer. The key to overcoming this is to acknowledge it, rather than turning away – and there are many strategies that can enhance confidence. We suggest you…

Use your past

  • Remind yourself and your team of previous successes and, most importantly, what preparation led up to them. What can you do to replicate these?

Use your present

Use the future

  • Visualise yourself and your team being successful.
  • Ask your team: “What will we do differently next time?” This helps shift the focus onto the positives and away from what you can’t change.

Turn failure into success

Mistakes are necessary if you want to learn and get better. Shifting your team’s focus towards mastering skills instead of just rewarding them for the outcome help underline this. Praise your team for developing and improving to encourage them to get right back to work when things don’t go their way.

Do you work with youth athletes? A recent study found that children are very good at judging how adults around them (parents or coaches) perceive failure. You need to understand and show that mistakes are important learning opportunities to inspire athletes.

Reduce fear of failure

Often, it’s not the failure itself that athletes fear. It’s the perceived negative consequences of that failure that stresses them out. Psychologists have identified two strategies to help reduce the fear of failure in your team:

Embrace the uncertainty

Sometimes, athletes think that a win means that everything is good, and a defeat means that it’s all doom and gloom. That can lead to stress, anxiety and ‘safer’ play, when in fact sport can be very unpredictable. Encourage your team to judge themselves on their attitude and effort as these are the behaviours that you want to see again.

Question fears

Following bad matches, teams can start to think emotionally, meaning they’ll tend to think about worst case scenarios as well as catastrophising small setbacks. A nice way to challenge this with your team is to ask whether what they are thinking is fact or feeling. This will help people to start thinking more rationally.

Teamwork makes the dream work  

A recent study suggested that social support is key to bouncing back from setbacks as it helps reduce people’s vulnerability to stressful situations. This is the case for anyone, whether their performance is consistently good, consistently poor, or anything in between.

Encourage athletes to seek support from within the team itself but also outside: friends, family, professionals… This can help teams bounce back from failure by:

  • Enhancing the team’s effort
  • Helping them deal with stressful situations
  • Providing motivation

To find out more about how important building good teams are, check our guide here.

Train your mind as well as your body. Unlock your full potential with sport psychology coaching.

Foster resilience

When interviewed, many Olympic athletes say that resilience is a key factor in their path to success. Good ways for teams to become more resilient include taking responsibility or viewing decisions as active choices, as well as having an overarching focus on learning and development. Here are 9 ways that Olympic champions develop their resilience.

Interestingly, a recent study suggested that young athletes should not be shielded from facing adversity. Instead, these experiences can help them to develop personally. However, the caveat is that coaches should find a balance and not use too much ‘tough love’ as this can weaken the athlete’s mentality.

Offer better feedback

In sport, the reality is that setbacks are inevitable at some point in your career. However, athletes can avoid making the same mistakes again by using quality feedback. Be careful, though: feedback can be a double-edged sword. Done right, it can be one of the most effective ways to learn – done wrong, it can hinder learning hugely.

There are many ways to give better feedback. One of our favourites? Try to view it as feedforward instead, by putting an emphasis on what do next and how to get better, offering suggestions on strategies and pointing out behaviours that you want to see again. A great way to start this conversation is by asking the team for their opinions on what should be done differently.

Final thoughts

Bouncing back from setbacks and failure is vitally important for any team in any sport. Just look at any of your sporting icons and their view on failure, and they will tell you that it’s just another opportunity to learn or get motivated. This is achievable by athletes at all levels – just follow these easy 6 tips to help your team bounce back from defeat and thrive again.

About the editor

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch

Bradley Busch is a Chartered Psychologist and a leading expert on illuminating Cognitive Science research in education. As Director at InnerDrive, his work focuses on translating complex psychological research in a way that is accessible and helpful. He has delivered thousands of workshops for educators and students, helping improve how they think, learn and perform. Bradley is also a prolific writer: he co-authored four books including Teaching & Learning Illuminated and The Science of Learning, as well as regularly featuring in publications such as The Guardian and The Telegraph.

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