Turning Things Around

A concerned parent recently wrote to Coach Torbett looking for advise on how to develop a winning culture within a team, how to build confidence and motivate players. What follows is Coach Torbett’s reply. Whilst he nails all the points, I especially like points 5 and 6. Coaches, parents and players, sit down, grab a pen and take notes.


“I wish that I had 3 easy steps to a winning mentality to give to you but I do not. If I did, I would probably write a best selling book and be a multi-millionaire. Regardless, here are a few thoughts for you:

  1. Motivation that lasts always comes from within. A coach can pump up a player for a moment, but the type of mentality that carries you through tough times has always and will always come from within, from inside a person’s heart. This means you must get between the ears of your son. The best way is to begin to fill his brain with books written by people with a proven winning mentality. They could be sports people and they might not. He cannot imitate what he doesn’t know. If he can read about real people in real situations who overcome and maintain a winning mentality, then he can stand on the shoulders of their experiences. Most young people simply don’t have personal history to fall back on. An example is Abraham Lincoln: lost most of the elections he was in; his business went bankrupt, etc.; but all we remember is his success as president during the Civil War.Of course, you can’t force him to want it. Tell him that. Tell him that he must WANT to overcome; he must WANT to have a winning mentality; and he must WANT to find a way when he has no idea how. “WANTING IT” is the first step.
  2. Your son must be prepared to be the only one that believes in himself. However, a winning mentality is like a virus. It is contagious. It will spread if given a chance. He needs to start by finding one teammate who will agree to support each other. How? Little things; a pat on the back; tell him “good shot” when it didn’t go in; a secret handshake or signal that says, “we’re in this together”. (I know this sounds corny, but it works. We are social creatures whether we want to believe it or not.)
  3. As a shooter, he must never doubt himself; NEVER, ever, doubt himself. He can only allow himself the luxury of noting HOW the shot was missed, (short, long, etc..) and that’s it! Because the next one is going in. Great shooters take great shots and hit great shots and must believe that they were born to take the last game-winning shot. That kind of confidence and belief is born out of high amounts of successful repetition. How much? As much as it takes – only he can answer that question.
  4. Never, ever play the BLAME GAME. Losing is never someone else’s fault. It’s not the coach’s fault. I’ve never seen a coach make a shot or defend an opponent. Trust me, the coach is taking every game. every practice, every missed shot, and every turnover home with him (or her). I’ve never known a coach who doesn’t take it personally. The first step for everyone on the team is to own up for what is happening. And by the way, it’s not the games that are the problem. Games are won and lost in practice; during preparation. Everyone wants to win. And everyone plays as hard as they can come game-time. But only a few are willing to PREPARE TO WIN. That means the off-season as well as in-season practice.
  5. Take your eyes off winning and losing and refocus on being successful. Define or redefine for yourself as an individual what success is. Success and satisfaction is a result of becoming the best you can be with what has been given you. That might not translate into winning games in the beginning. Here’s what I mean. No one is born a winner. We LEARN how to win. If there is no tradition (examples) for you to follow and imitate then consider that you may be the pioneer that others on your team and at your school will follow. Set your goals in realistic increments because a turnaround won’t happen overnight. If the team is losing by 20 and committing 25 turnovers per game, then set a goal of keeping the turnovers under 20. Even though the next loss is by 15, the team can judge this loss as a success. Now we cut our turnovers to 15 and under. Any loss by under 10 points means that you’ve had a chance to win; the team must judge that margin of loss as success. (The team must be “in the game” in order to win the game.)
  6.  Whether winning or losing, the team must understand that there are “losing dynamics” around them at all times. They must protect themselves from these “negative viruses”. Create a shell around the team and coaching staff. Unlike girls, boys are not great at bonding together. Create social time outside of the gym for the team to come together and be boys and the coaches can be friends instead of coaches. Keep it exclusive if you want to build “US FOUR AND NO MORE” spirit. Consider what the military does in order to instill “esprit de corp”. They put young men together in tough conditions where they must depend on each other in order to survive. Some learn to lead and the rest learn to follow. Our society has a lot to say about building leaders but leaders are no good without disiplined followers.
  7. Pray. Teach them how to pray. Many times we don’t “have” because we don’t ask. I’ve never asked for wins, because this is a sport. But I’ve asked for success; I’ve asked for discipline and wisdom; I’ve asked for spiritual, mental, and emotional support; and I’ve asked for endurance.
    Remind them what the bible says about precious metals. Gold is formed in the fire. Only in the fire does the impurities rise to the top to be skimmed off. And what your are left with is pure gold.In other words, perhaps these boys are being allowed to go through these “fires” in order build something and shape something in their character that God wants to see. Another way to look at the adversity is to consider how an eagle looks at turbulent winds. If he folds his wings, he drops like a rock. But if he spreads his wings, then the turbulent winds take him higher and higher. Your son and his teammates need to spread their wings of faith; faith in each other; faith in their coach; faith in themselves; and faith in something greater than themselves and let these turbulent times take them to a higher level.
  8. My last suggestion is to remind them that this struggle to have a positive mental attitude will never cease. They’ll never arrive without a need to maintain it. A winning attitude, a great shooter, a successful team, a winning tradition is always under construction.

I wished I had more that I could give you. There are plenty of successful, winning athletes and coaches that have written books that could help much more than an email from me. Any book by John Wooden, Coach K at Duke, etc., will give you insights that I’ve never thought of.

Thanks for asking. I’m flattered and honored that you would contact me. I hope my suggestions help a little.

Rick Torbett”



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