Coaches and athletes must deal with the fact all games end with a team's performance falling (more or less) into one of the following categories:
- Won and played well.
- Won but played poorly.
- Lost and played well.
- Lost and played poorly.
Given the above four conditions, is there a constructive method when de-briefing a team so players will utilize the just-ended contest as a learning experience.
Coaches should be aware of the fact they will be prone to openly demonstrate anger and disappointment following a game when their team plays poorly. These excessive postmortems are non-constructive, expressed with negative emotion and mostly inaccurate. They distort the coach and players' perceptions of what actually took place on the field. Fueled by negative emotion, the coach may inaccurately attribute the team's poor play or loss to factors, after careful analysis, reveal their effect on the team's performance were minimal. In many cases, denigrating personal remarks made to specific team members add to the inaccurate assessment of factors responsible for a poor performance. Even more important, it leads players to attribute their poor performance on factors far removed from the "reality of the situation".
Research in sports psychology shows athletes attribute their performance to several factors such as: the good feel of executing the correct technique, self-confidence, extensive preparation, knowledge of their opponent, ability to relax and concentrate and other factors. When coaches conduct extensive postmortems, the players will be offended if the focus is on factors, which clearly have little relevance or meaning to them. This can lead to an undue emphasis in practice sessions on aspects of performance, which are not the ones that need to be improved upon. If practice time is not being wisely invested, player resentment intensifies. In setting up an effective debriefing program all coaches should ask themselves what their objectives were following a game.
Two common objectives are:
- Improve individual performance.
- Utilizing the just completed game as a tool to prepare for the next contest.
Recommendation: One method previously used successfully is having players fill out an evaluation form following a game to rate how they performed. A meeting can be held the following day to discuss the individual's performance with the coach. At this meeting, the coach can modify individual performance attributions and interact with the players in a positive and rational manner as sufficient time has elapsed to be objective.
For example, if the player is inaccurately self-critical, by utilizing the checklist coaches can objectively evaluate performance and place the negative aspects in proper context. Video review can be used here for supporting the positive. The coach can also give the team a written analysis, which stresses positive execution, while areas which need to be improved are stated constructively. Immediately following a game, especially after a poor team performance, coaches should address psychological needs, e.g. leaving alone those who prefer to be left alone, reassuring those who need confidence boosted, and ensuring on one gets "too down" or sullen. The next day's meeting, with one to one consultation, video review, and written analysis by both coach and athlete will be 100% more effective than any post-game session.