Tony Cimaglia, Head Coach
Calvary Christian Academy
If you coach long enough, you’ll go through a season – or a stretch during a season – where you lose more than you win. This especially holds true when the task at hand is turning around a struggling program.
This past season I took over a boys’ varsity program at a small private school in Western Maryland: a program that hasn’t had a winning record since 1994-95.
The coaching staff was excited. We were hopeful. But we were also realistic. We knew going in it would be tough: new coach, new system, and new players (we had more freshmen than seniors).
We finished 5-19, having lost 14 of our last 15 games.
I remember being asked near the end of the season how we were able to keep the players interested and their spirits up during such a bad stretch.
My response was simple: You have to look for the silver linings.
Is it clichéd? Yes.
But it’s true.
We had to find ways to accentuate every positive we could, to keep the players believing in what we were doing, believing in themselves, believing that playing for each other and never giving up was far more important than what the scoreboard showed.
As I told the team after every loss: “Don’t be happy with the result, but be proud of the effort.”
I spoke with the team early on about rebuilding the program, and in order to build anything, you have to start with a solid foundation.
We looked at every silver lining as a brick in that foundation. We began to set small goals for every game. They were goals that – even if we didn’t win – we could point to and recognize as steps forward, as progress, as bricks in the foundation.
A few examples:
1) Our third game of the season was on the road against the top team in our conference. We lost 95-44.
When they came to our place in February, we had our goals in place: be patient on offense, dictate the tempo, and hold them under 70 points.
In the first game, the score after the first quarter was 33-7.
In the second game: 14-8.
The game eventually got away from us and we lost 69-32, but we hung in early and held them under 70. We held them to 26 fewer points, closed the margin from 51 to 37, and we were more competitive.
All of those were bricks in the foundation.
2) In early January we played at the No. 2-rated public school in our area. We lost 61-20, and only had 8 points at the half.
Three weeks later they came to our place, and at the 6:00 mark of the 2nd quarter we were only down 18-12.
Again, the game got away from us, but the message to our players was clear: For 10 minutes we played the 2nd-best team in our area to within six points.
After the game their coach said, “You guys are a lot better now than you were three weeks ago.”
Better believe I passed that on to the team, to let them know that their hard work was getting noticed not just by us, but others as well.
More bricks in the foundation.
It’s easy to lose a locker room when you’re losing games. It’s easy for frustration and doubt to creep in.
The challenge is to keep the team playing hard, keep them fighting through adversity, and keep them believing in themselves.
Keep looking for ways to motivate the team through difficult times. Keep trying to find victories in defeat.
Keep looking for the silver linings.
“If you believe in yourself and have dedication and pride – and never quit – you’ll be a winner. The price of victory is high, but so are the rewards.” – Paul “Bear” Bryant