Managing the emotions of the team and individual during a challenging time

words by Tackle Your Feelings, Thursday 19 March 2020

Words by Leon Cameron (GWS Giants coach)

Leon Cameron – Tackle Your Feelings

Managing the emotions of individuals and a team during a challenging period is a big part of a coach’s responsibility.

Controlling the mindset of the playing group after they’ve been through a challenging period – a series of losses, playing poorly or a teammate facing a long period on the sidelines – is one of the most important aspects of my role as a coach.

As we know in football, emotions can go up and down. From a win to a loss, to whatever might be happening on and off the field your role as a coach is to reinforce the vision of what you want your group to believe in even when things aren’t going so well.

If you’ve had three or four losses in a row or a significant injury that impacts the team that can make things difficult.

This year we were beaten by Essendon, Brisbane and Richmond over a three-game stretch and were coming up against Collingwood who had been playing some great footy. It felt like it was doom and gloom with commentary suggesting our chances for making the finals were fairly slim.

That was an important time for myself and the coaching group to manage the emotion surrounding the group: ‘We don’t need to and shouldn’t be thinking about the outcome before enjoying our football,’ was our message to the boys.

Part of being a coach is about understanding the players, what makes them have fun and enjoy their football again and reminding them that even though we might have lost a game or a player to a long-term injury, you need to manage the immediate emotional response associated with that challenge.

No team or individual goes out onto the field wanting to get beaten or injured, but unfortunately losses and injuries are part of the game. When those challenges come our way as a team, we work to learn from that and move forward, reinforcing the vision we have as a group.

I’ve found in the past three or four years since taking over the senior coaching role at the Giants that negative feedback doesn’t help anyone.

If you’ve got a group that’s trying to do everything you ask of them and you continually give negative feedback, it can stifle the group.

There’s an old saying that former GWS Giants football manager Graeme Allan once told me when I first started at the Giants – It’s never as bad or as good as it seems.

I didn’t know what he meant at the start, but as I’ve grown in my role as coach I do now.

It’s never that bad when you get beaten two or three times in a row, it’s never that bad if we have a nasty injury because that player is going to recover and come out the other side whether that’s in six weeks or 12 months’ time.

Equally, when we win it’s great, but you’ve got to move on because you’re facing another opponent next week.

Having a balanced approach as a coach is important to ensuring the playing group remains balanced, too.

But, when you’re a coach you are managing upwards of 44 different types of players and therefore have to apply different tactics when conversing with an individual compared to the team.

It’s important not to jump around and change things dramatically for different people.

It’s more about the delivery of your message – some people need a softer approach and some people need to be challenged.  

Ultimately, the main goal is to put your best foot forward as a coach and get the best performances out of your players at training and on game day.

Above all, from player one to player 44 on your list you have to build a great relationship. That’s a non-negotiable.

If you don’t have relationships with your playing group you can’t work out what angle you’re going to come in on or how much time you need to spend with someone.

As a coach, it’s important to have a balance of knowing how much time to spend with people and knowing when to leave them be.

Building relationships and understanding the needs of the playing group is at the core of being a coach.

When it comes to supporting players, the responsibility doesn’t just lie with me as a senior coach but with our assistant coaches, high performance managers, physiotherapists, sports psychologist and any other staff member who is working day-to-day with our playing group.

Our staff play an enormous role in connecting with the players and trying to support them in the best way possible.

By connecting over and over and checking in with the group, you get a great understanding on the different needs of your players and the best way to support them during challenging situations.

One way I’ve been able to lift the spirits of the group is through using another player to support me.

There might be instances where I go to Heath Shaw, who has played more than 300 games, or someone as experienced as Shane Mumford because they have the ability to walk into the group and break the ice.

As senior players they act as father figures who help the young guys understand that it’s not the end of the world if you didn’t get a touch or didn’t have the impact you wanted because it’s part of the game and you’ll get another opportunity.

Having that experience is crucial and having the forum to talk about it and break the ice at times is equally, if not more, important.

In instances where football can become repetitive for a player, it’s important to give them a break.

We’re extremely lucky to be in the business of football like we are but it can be a stressful job and as with any career there will always be challenges.

When it’s round 21, it’s snowing and you’ve lost a few games in a row, it’s easy to lose sight of the bigger picture and you will probably find it tough to motivate the group.

But having a moment away from the game can help.

It’s important to have the opportunity to drop your guard and relax to focus on your life outside of football – you don’t want it to be football 24/7.

For a young player pushing his case for senior selection, suggesting time away from the group might not be what they want to do, but it’s important to remind them that the sun will come up tomorrow and there is more to life than football.

Players are driven to succeed so trying to understand how they’re really feeling might be challenging but this is where relationship building is critical.

Sometimes the best possible experience for the group after a challenging period is time away from the game.

Our players experienced that with the off-season break after the Grand Final, which was a time to allow them to reflect but also to think about life outside of football.

Bouncing back from the Grand Final loss will be a great challenge for us.

We let ourselves down, but we won’t let that define us.

We also won’t dwell on it; things move quickly in this game.

By round one, all 18 teams start equal on the starting line again.

You’re defined by the longevity and the culture you create and that’s something we’re really proud of at the Giants.

As a group we will celebrate the little wins and recognise our successes as a team.

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