3 Things You Can Do To Help Your Team Handle 'End Of Season' Transitions

written by Erica Quam

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You’ve had a long season.

It’s hard to imagine back to the beginning of the year when everything was new and exciting. There was a sense of wonder. Endless possibilities.

Your athletes are different now.

They’ve changed.

You’ve changed as a coach.

You’ve had experiences together as a team that have helped you learn and grow. You’ve all had your perspectives challenged - more than once.

Your team cycles through the four stages of team development: FORM-STORM-NORM-PERFORM throughout the season.

There’s a 5th stage called transformation. During this stage, some athletes may feel a sense of loss or grief and others may feel a sense of relief - depending on their perspective, experience, and outcome.

The TRANSFORM stage is when members of the group move on...for a variety of reasons.

  • Seniors graduate.

  • Athletes quit or transfer to another team.

  • Coaches may ask an athlete not to return based on behavior and expectations that are no longer aligned with the direction the team is going.

There’s a lot of different stuff going on under the surface for athletes who will be returning to your team.

  • The juniors may be overwhelmed - with the realization of all that's coming up for them in the year ahead.

  • The sophomores may be starting to get comfortable (maybe a little too comfortable...???).

  • The freshmen may have already checked out - just ready to go home. 

TRANSFORMATION CHAOS

Do you feel chaos during this stage as a coach? You probably do.

Does your team feel it? They definitely do!

They may not have the awareness as to why things 'feel off'.

Transformation can be a confusing time for your team. 

It can be a big deal or a little deal - depending on what happens and how it's handled.  

WHAT CAN YOU DO AS A COACH?

1. Talk about it.

Teach them (or review) the stages of team development. Acknowledges the change and normalize it for them.

For example, "Sarah has decided not to return to the team next year. I was sad to see her go. How are you all doing?" or "Things feel a little different without our seniors here anymore. Do you guys notice it?”

The level of awareness and perspective you can offer as a coach may be just what they need.

Hearing this is what all teams go through may help them breathe a small sigh of relief.

2. Give them some space.

Everything shifts for your team when someone comes in or leaves your group.

Roles will be filled by someone else. Your team needs time to figure this out.

They need a little space to explore and expand...to 'try these new roles on', if you will.

You can't expect them have it all figured out and do things perfectly.

Give them space (and grace) as they expand into their next role in this new stage.

Some of your athletes will be pushed to speak up more...and this can be scary for them!

They may worry what people think of them.

They may be anxious of saying or doing the wrong thing. (That's a real fear for them!)

If they've typically been someone who has blended in and gone with the flow...stepping up and standing out can shift their whole paradigm.

Or...you may have someone who has been waiting their whole career to be the team captain. Their over-enthusiasm may come off way too strong. They just might piss everyone on your team off right out of the gates.

3. Encourage them.

Encourage your athletes through these changes.

When they take a risk to speak up and share something, acknowledge that and give them a pat on the back. If there's something they could do differently in their communication style or tone, offer to give them a little coaching on it.

You're the one who is the constant here.

Your role hasn't changed.

They're going to be looking to you for some direction and guidance to navigate these huge changes. (Even if they never ever admit that...).

You're the one who can set the tone and bring all of this uncertainty to a conscious level of awareness.

I hear so many coaches who get frustrated with their team during this stage...because no one is stepping up to be the leader. 

You have to be the leader as the coach and help guide them through this process. 

Give them permission and the space to step up, screw up, and expand. 

Your role as a coach is to orient them (in this new direction), protect them (by acknowledging and addressing the uncertainty), and lead them back to the norming stage (redefining roles, rules, & expectations).

Share one thing you do as a coach to help your athletes through the transformation stage.