Self-control is an essential trait for a coach. Having emotional control allows you to manage situations better when you must make decisions. That is why a coach should not be too affected by a defeat or a victory. The consequences of a poor psychological adjustment can lead to incorrectly assessing what has happened, wrongly ascribing responsibility for success or failure, and adopting unfortunate implications for the next match. That is why you must stay balanced. Coaches must adjust the attention focus to the next game when the previous one has finished. A coach must be a reference for the players, which is achieved by setting the example. However, that’s not possible when the coach does not have self-control.
How should the coach manage a match’s result to get the best of his players for the next match? Knowing how to control the moments of success or frustration of the teams after a victory or a defeat is one of the great skills that a high-level coach must manage with precision.1 Winning usually reinforces the belief in the advisability of the plans set by the coach and increases the probability of being successful again. Often, losing triggers the opposite reactions. Everything is wrong and can get worse. Moods or perceptions of individual and collective self-efficacy are highly dependent on the outcome of the match. Coaches must know where to direct the players’ attention depending on the needs of the situation. Selecting the appropriate response, releasing, or carrying the responsibility of a defeat inside or outside the team is critical to ensure that a negative result does not affect the preparation for the next match.2
Suppose the coach’s goal is to maintain the players’ confidence in the team’s game plan and what is done during training sessions. In that case, the best thing is to attribute the errors to others: the referee was to blame, we were unlucky. And, internally the successes: things have turned out well because we deserved it, our performance has been as expected, we are in a good moment… On the contrary, if it is about making the team grow more, it is advisable to make an internal attribution of the errors: we have lost because we were not at our best, we can do better some things in the pitch…3,4
When should we do the first or the second? It depends on the context that each team has. Let’s suppose that the result of the match has been negative, but it is hazardous that a loss of confidence arises in the group because a critical game or a play-off follows. You must bet on looking to blame something or someone outside the team. It is about making an external causal attribution.
On the other hand, if the team is relaxing way too much in training and losing its intensity at work as they won the last games, the best thing is to assume the responsibility for any error internally. The message is that you must improve to keep winning. Looking inwards or outwards to find someone responsible for the success or defeat depends on what we need at the time: preserving confidence or growing as a team.
The post-match chat with the players in the changing room is crucial. The coach must guide the players’ reflection on what has happened on the grass. It is an excellent opportunity to help athletes put their attention where it best suits each case: performance or result. Players should not make personal conclusions that are not the most advisable. One last idea, in training, it’s about growing the players. As a routine, an internal attribution of errors should be adopted.
1 Lago Peñas, C. y Seirul.lo, F. (2021). La dirección del entrenamiento y el partido en el Fútbol y los Deportes de Equipo. Próxima publicación.
2 Weinberg, R.S. y Goud, D. (2012). Fundamentos de Psicología del Deporte y del Ejercicio Físico. Madrid: Editorial Médica Panamericana.
3 Marí, P. (2011). Aprende de los campeones. Barcelona: Plataforma Editorial.
4 Marí, P (2019). Aprende a echar la culpa. En: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=cSLQzqGjHLA.