Transitioning seasons can be tough. Here's what to do (and not do) to make it easier.
September 16, 2015 by Tiina Booth in Opinion with 11 comments
If you competed at Regionals this weekend, you are probably sliding into the depths of post-season blues right now. I imagine that I was not the only one texting with friends late into Sunday night. For those of you returning to desk jobs, I feel for you. You are bone weary, your feet hurt, and all you want is a redo on a play or a half or a game. You know you shouldn’t read the recaps but you do anyway.
I wanted to write this after College Nationals but the days were getting longer and summer was on my horizon. There was too much to look forward to. At one point Sunday in Devens, however, a chilly rainy wind blew through the fields and I knew that winter was on its way. For us northerners, the end of outside play is looming.
This transition is always a hard one. I have had many years of experience working my way through the end of a season and want to share some suggestions on how to navigate these rough emotional waters. Even if your team met your competitive goals at Regionals, there is still a bittersweet finality to the season for most players and coaches.
Even if you are one of the 48 teams who will advance to Nationals, your teammates may also be struggling with some of these same issues. I remember the first time that we had a very successful high school season; I still received stinging emails from unhappy players and parents.
And if your team is doing well, happy to be riding the happy train to Frisco, ignore everything below until you need it. That could happen in about 21 days.
1. Make no individual decisions about your team or your role on it this week. Do not quit. Wanting a quick fix is understandable, but wait at least a month before you even think about making a real decision.
2. Make no team decisions this week either. Do not fire a new coach or hire a new coach or change who captains your team. Do not ask a teammate to leave. Wait at least three months.
3. Listen to your teammates evaluate the season but resist the need to agree with them. Hindsight is a curse. Everyone knows what should have been done after the fact but repeatedly second-guessing your leadership is a trap. There is a difference between post-tournament analysis, on the one hand, and post-tournament blame and criticism whose main purpose is to distance yourself from the results, on the other.
4. Be with the pain or joy or whatever occurred this weekend. It is obviously easier to wallow in joy. Your team didn’t have to advance in order to have had a successful weekend and many teams left Regionals satisfied with their results. Every team has different goals, so relish the ones you achieved. For those whose teams underperformed, don’t try to push away the parts of the weekend that were difficult. Acknowledge and sit with the pain; it is the only way to move through it.
5. Do not send long emails to the leadership or teammates with your detailed analysis of the weekend. It may feel good to write it, but do not send it. Save it and reread it and maybe send it at the end of October. But my guess is that you will change your mind by then.
6. Make a list of Helpful Observations that you share with no one. Do not make it personal; rather, try to step back a few paces to see the entire picture. “Our handlers forced throws when we played against better defense” is fine, but try instead, “We all need to get in much better shape if we want access to our offensive options all the time.” The first may be true but the second offers a solution. This may be a good reference when the time to rebuild starts.
7. Do not try to make players commit to another season of play immediately. This is part of the “Wanting a Redo” mentality. Players will make their own decisions in a few months; you have to allow them the space to consider their options. I stopped begging players to play with us years ago. You only want a player who really wants to commit and knows what it means to buy in. Anything less is asking for trouble down the road.
8. Finally, do not beat yourself up about how you played this past weekend. Give yourself a break. You can dwell on your miscues for about 2 more hours but then let it go. Replace your lowlight reel with the moments when you responded the way you wanted to. The faster you can leave those errors behind, the sooner you will find yourself warming up, ready to play again.
1. Organizing a group of people is hard. If you have never been a coach or captain (or teacher or tournament director), you have no idea how difficult it can be. You are often expected to be all things to all people all the time. Sending a quick thanks to the leadership of your team, even if you disagree with them, is the right thing to do. Don’t let next weekend arrive without doing this.
2. If you are on the receiving end of one of those long emails from an unhappy teammate, give yourself a day or more to answer, if you do at all. Recognize that they are in the processing mode and are looking for someone to blame. Figure out how to respond instead of reacting to what they said. Less is more works well here.
3. Make sure you have some kind of final event for your team, something that is not a complaint session. I assume most teams do this, but if you have players from different parts of your region, still make every effort to do so. A ritual which commemorates the season provides closure and opens up space for the next version of your team to develop.
4. Do something completely different to challenge yourself physically and mentally. Let yourself heal this week and then choose a new challenge, maybe with some non-ultimate friends. Taking a break benefits everyone.
5. Improve your ultimate I.Q. There are more resources than ever before and every single player and coach can learn more about our sport. I am speaking at the Canadian Ultimate Conference in November and I am looking forward to attending as much as presenting.
6. If you are transitioning from playing club to coaching college or high school, make a clear mental break from your club team. Remind yourself that you are not their peer and they are not your teammates. Take the good part of your club season and share it with your young players. Try not to yell your club team’s name when you are coaching.
7. If you are not coaching in the off-season, why the heck not? If you can’t commit fully to a team, perhaps assist in some way or run a clinic or teach the random kid in the park to throw. The crisis in finding ultimate coaches continues, at least in the Northeast, and we still are a very small sport that needs everyone to contribute to its grassroots growth.
8. Reacquaint yourself with your family. They missed you, even if they were on your sideline. Put a lot of time and energy into the emotional bank account so if you disappear again in the 2016 season, they will still hold a seat at the dinner table for you.
I had planned on attending Nationals again in Frisco but have decided to stay home and watch the games from afar. I am looking forward to reading someone else’s Club Nationals Report Card. My fall season with UMass will be in full swing by then and I relish the slow build toward spring. The possibilities seem endless at this point. I hope that it will feel that way for you all again soon.