Coaching a Bad Team – how having a bad team can turn into a great season

A coaching colleague told me the other day that his current team is easily the worst that has ever had and that coaching them is not an enjoyable experience.  I responded with only one thought that day and told him to hang in there and that in such seasons like the one he is about to experience, I personally learned more about coaching than I did in the better seasons.

Since that time, however, I’ve had more time to think about that exchange and I’m sorry to say that over the years, I’ve talked that way myself on occasion and have heard that type of negativity numerous times.  But, the truth is such talk is really a weakness especially for a coach who should be setting a positive example at all times for his players and his community.  Players, staff, parents and fans pick up all signals from the head coach.  So, with that in mind, the following checklist might be worth reviewing in this regard:

  • Remember how excited you were to get your first opportunity to coach?  You hoped your team would be good but just the chance to have your own team was enormous.  If every coach thought coaching every team, every season was a privilege, their players would be much better served.
  • The challenge of coaching any team in competition is one of the key components of why we coach.  The challenge of coaching an undermanned team is even greater.  Therefore, the rewards are greater when such teams meet or exceed the challenge.
  • There is absolutely no place for wallowing in one’s prospects or disappointments.  That behavior is counter competitive to the very nature of athletics and, as coaches, we need to be absolute role models in that regard.
  • Players on teams which have over-achieved know that they’ve done so and greatly appreciate the coach who took them there.
  • Finding new ways to make one’s team competitive is interesting and intellectually challenging.
  • Coaching an undermanned team often allows for great creativity (playing five guards together, playing combo-defenses, switching defenses, radical sets/spacing etc.)
  • Truly following the “overnight rule” which dictates totally forgetting the last game.  This prevents lingering pessimism after bad experiences.  The head coach and the staff totally dictate how players line up the next day to prepare.  Day to day consistency and resolve from the head coach can determine whether or not a team arrives at its potential.
  • Getting back to the original response that I gave my colleague, there is much to be learned from the adversity of being undermanned-both in a basketball sense and in a character building sense.  There really isn’t any other choice except to embrace one’s team, no matter what they are at the moment.


  1. Happy holidays . I appreciate and can relate to this post oh so well. I moved to a new city and was loooking for a team. The school closest to me didnt have a winning ” season in a few years. I reached out to see if they could use my assistance. They accepted. Not winning alot of games, not making it to the playoffs was new for me. I had been spoiled by my previous experiences of only loosing as many as this team was winning. I am having fun being creative in my teaching and coaching as its making a huge difference . thanks

  2. Great article. I really am thankful to have read this. I will definitely continue to put this into practice. This will be a tremendous challenge for me and my assistant to keep the team in a positive and upbeat attitude. Thank you for the reminder of my I want to coach in the first place.

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