How to Help Athletes Who Blame Themselves for Team Losses

Athletes are hard on themselves. We know that. However, some take it too far. After a heartbreaking loss, some athletes may blame themselves, taking too much responsibility. This kind of thinking is counterproductive, unrealistic, and kills confidence. What’s a coach to do?

Sport Psychology, Blaming, Responsibility, Blame Themselves, Overly Critical, Coaching, Leadership, Athletes

He Blamed Himself

I once worked with a player who struggled in this way. He personalized losses and believed he was the sole contributor.

He would get angry. Then he’d sulk. He told his teammates he was sorry for letting them down.

However, he was overlooking the fact that he wasn’t the only player on the court. He had teammates who either played well or didn’t.

Not only did his perspective overshadow the importance his fellow team members played, but he unfairly judged his own performance.

This resulted in negative emotions, high stress, and weakened confidence, which too often bled into the next competition.

His coaches tried to help him but just couldn’t get through.

A Coach’s 3 Step Conversation Guide for Self-Blamers

Allow me to share a short process that can help players effectively cope with loss and take a more appropriate amount of responsibility.

Use this as an outline as you converse with the player. The goal is to help the player be more objective and accurate.

1. Identify why the athlete thinks the team lost.

If you’re talking with an athlete who often personalizes losses, they’ll likely say themselves. And, that’s okay…for now.

2. Ask, “What else might have caused the team to lose?”

The purpose of this question is to broaden the scope of the player’s thinking beyond themselves. Encourage the player to consider the role of opponents, teammates, coaches, officials, preparation, and so on.

I’m not recommending pointing fingers. Remember, you’re dealing with an athlete who is taking too much responsibility already. Help this person see the full picture.

3. Ask the player to assign a percentage of responsibility to all the identified factors.

For example, let’s say a softball player identified that her opponent’s level of play, a couple of coaching decisions, missed opportunities by teammates, and one critical call by the officials may have contributed to the loss.

To paint a vivid picture, ask her to draw out a simple pie chart and divide up the pie based on how much each factor contributed to the loss – including her own mistakes.

Now she can more accurately see how much her own performance contributed to the team’s loss.

Bonus Download

To help you walk athletes through this 3-step process, I created this easy-to-follow pdf: A Coach’s Conversation Guide for Athletes Who Blame Themselves.

Help Self-Blaming Athletes Take Appropriate Responsibility

I love athletes who take responsibility. That’s leadership. However, some take it too far and unfairly blame themselves for team losses. I’ve seen numerous coaches struggle with how to handle these situations.

Hopefully, the 3-step conversation guide above will help you when these situations arise.

Question: What other strategies have you found helpful for self-blamers?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.



Please note: I encourage reader discussion, however, I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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