Do You Make This Mistake in Tough Times?

By Stephanie Zonars

Everybody likes each other until things get tough. Then you will find out what kind of team you have. 
—Doc Rivers

The preseason is paradise. Everyone gets along famously.

But every coach knows what’s coming. Playing time frustrations. Role dissatisfaction. Mental and physical exhaustion. Injuries and losses.

All of which can take a toll on team relationships.

So when adversity comes in its various forms, how can you keep the team together?

Consistently foster positive emotional connections.

Coaches usually create emotional touch points at the beginning of the season through team building exercises. These typically lead to ongoing activities like team huddles before practice when each person shares her practice goal for the day. Or maybe an after practice huddle where each player shares something positive a teammate did in practice.

But when things get tough, these activities easily get pushed to the back burner (usually in lieu of more reps, drills or conditioning). Schedules are tight and there just doesn’t seem to be enough time to get it all in.

Big mistake!

Obviously practice and skill development are necessary and important, but at some point in the middle to end of the season, increasing physical demands will be counter-productive.

Tired minds and bodies need emotional encouragement and an injection of fun into the routine in order to keep them going. Something that reminds team members that they are valued, loved and making an important contribution.

Awhile back, my brother took over as the VP of Sales for a newspaper, given the task of righting the ship. Morale is low and advertising sales dismal. He has implemented strategies will help his people develop stronger sales skills.

But he also knows that fostering better emotional connections is vital.

So he instituted “Happy Hour” on each Friday late afternoon—a time for the sales group to come together to celebrate the wins of the week. And his team LOVES it.

In business, sports and life, times of adversity call for an increase in opportunities for emotional connection, not a decrease. —Tweet that!

Though we may tend toward isolation in difficult times, teams that choose to lock arms are more likely to rise up over the obstacles they face.

But relationships must be continually cultivated in order for people to come together in the tough moments.

Find creative ways to foster connections during team meals or bus/plane travel—times when your team is already together. It doesn’t have to be elaborate or time intensive.

Three quick and easy ideas:

  • Write a bunch of questions on slips of paper and put them in a hat, then have each person draw a question and answer it. Here’s a link to some good questions.
  • Ask an either/or question during stretching for everyone to answer—things like beach or mountains? Lemonade or iced tea? Snow ball fight or sand volleyball? Click here for more ideas.
  • Tape a piece of card stock on each team member’s back, then have everyone go around and write an encouraging word or phrase about that person on their paper. After everyone has written on each paper, have individuals take the paper off their back and read aloud the words written about them.
Consistently valuing and prioritizing your team relationships teaches your players that strong, trustworthy relationships will help them navigate the bumpy road of life.

Experiencing the strength that unity brings will help them the rest of their lives!

If you’ve created emotional touchpoints and feel tempted to forsake those activities during a tough stretch—please don’t.

And if you don’t currently do anything like this—please try one of the ideas above.

In 10 years, your players may not remember scores and records, but they will remember what it felt like to be a member of your team.

Nurture those relationships well today so they have fond memories later.

Do You Make This Mistake in Tough Times? appeared first on LifeBeyondSport.

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Stephanie Zonars helps coaches build and maintain championship cultures through her business, Life Beyond Sport. Teams at Penn State, Notre Dame, West Point and over 65 other schools have built stronger trust, communication and teamwork through her workshops. Stephanie spent three years on staff with the Penn State women’s basketball team, assisting the team to back-to-back Big Ten Championships. An author of four books, she now serves as Assistant AD of Marketing & Promotions at Cedarville University. Learn more at

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