Part of being a coach is rallying your players, and that doesn’t stop when the game is over.
You don’t need to hit the locker room for a meaningful pep talk. There are lots of ways you can boost your team’s morale from a distance.
Gratitude has scientifically proven benefits. It maximizes positive emotions, blocks toxic ones, helps us resist stress and gives us a higher sense of self-worth. It has physical and social benefits too — like strengthening immune systems, supporting better sleep and making us feel less lonely — which is why it’s a powerful tool for sports teams.
Ask your players to keep a gratitude diary where they journal about things, people or situations they’re grateful for.
Have players write a letter or record a video message for someone (or something) they’re thankful for.
At the end of each meeting you have with your team or individuals, let everyone share three things they’re feeling grateful for.
If you’re worried about getting buy-in, look to the captains or leaders on the team to set an example. Ask these players to try the above tactics first to see how they respond before expanding to the rest of the team.
Keep everyone focused on the positive by celebrating your team’s wins at the group and individual level. Creating highlights of your team’s best moments or re-sharing an athlete’s reel on social media is a little gesture that goes a long way.
Remember that celebrations don’t have to be about in-game moments. If you’re assigning athletes video homework or at-home workouts, take a minute to recognize the players who are putting in the time.
Ursuline Academy (Mo.) athletic director Jen Brooks offers these ideas for celebrating athletes whose seasons were canceled:
Hold social media contests. Have all your athletes submit a picture of them playing when they were younger. Each day, post a picture and ask followers to guess which athlete it is for a prize.
Play team-building games. Coaches have used games like trivia, Jackbox Games, Two Truths and a Lie and Never Have I Ever to give their teams a lighthearted way to connect. Alexis Longinotti, Menlo-Atherton head lacrosse coach, had her players send her their truths and lies so the team had to guess the lie and which of their teammates submitted it.
Throw a virtual team party or award night. Host this get-together through a video conferencing platform. If you have the budget, send pizza or another treat to all your players’ homes so the team can eat together. Get creative with awards. Make highlights for individual players and use those to announce the winners.
Get staff involved. Ask the staff within your organization to write an encouraging note to these athletes.
Prioritize Players’ Well-Being
Lead by example during a crisis and prioritize your players’ emotional wellbeing over their productivity. While a focus on maintaining or improving fitness can be a good coping mechanism, this isn’t a time to push the limits.
Rest and recovery is a key part of any athletic program. Even elite athletes take a month or two off during the year in order to come back fresh, mentally and physically.
If giving your athletes time to recover is important in a normal offseason, it might be even more important when there are unforeseen circumstances.
Use the Mind-Body Connection
Your players might not be preparing for their next game, but staying active is still important. During this time, exercise might be less about being in peak physical condition and more about keeping mentally fit.
Just five minutes of moderate exercise has mood-boosting effects. The long-term benefits of exercise include better sleep, which also contributes to better mental health. For best results, encourage your players to exercise at least three times a week for 45 – 60 minutes. (Get some ideas on how in the next section on developing your players.)