Coaching a Bad Team

We’ve all been there. If you haven’t yet, then brace yourself; it’s coming. If you’re truly dedicated to growing your program, then eventually you will coach a bad team. Most first year teams are not successful, at least when you look at the win column. Your school may go through a low spot in the talent cycle. When coaching a bad team, you feel a lot of pressure. That, coupled with the sheer disappointment of losing, can really weigh on you. Here are some simple thoughts to help you through the tougher seasons.

When coaching a bad team, do your best not to get discouraged.

Easier said than done, I know. Remember, though, that there is more to your life and your players’ lives than this sport.

Look to scripture. There are so many great passages dealing with discouragement. Look up Psalm 42. You’ll quickly identify with David. More importantly, though, notice where he directs his attention.

Look upward; not inward.

Discouragement is damaging and extremely contagious. If your players can detect discouragement in their coach, they’ll tend to play more tentatively. They want to avoid making you feel any worse. As a result, skills and focus will deteriorate.

You also don’t want your discouragement over a simple game to affect your relationships. Your spouse, family, and friends didn’t do anything to you. These are people who can help you through tough times. Don’t make it tougher by taking your frustrations out on them.


When coaching a bad team, ignore the advice.

I don’t mean ignore all the advice, but I had to get your attention.

Everyone will want to give you advice about what you should do to make your team better. Most of the time, these are well-meaning people who dedicate a lot of their time coming to your games. The problem is, they only see the results of a game. They look at all the things your team can’t do.

You’re the one who sees the team in practice everyday. You know what you’re teaching and trying to accomplish. Keep doing what you’re doing.

There are no quick fixes to a bad team. So politely ignore dad, grandpa, youth pastor, and fourth grade teacher.

Some advice can be extremely valuable. You just need to identify the sources that provide it. Fellow coaches, athletic directors, and experienced players can be a valuable resource. Not all of them are. However, if the trusted ones start talking, listen up.


When coaching a bad team, focus on the fundamentals.

No player is too good to practice and perfect the fundamental skills of their sport. Young teams need to focus on individual development regardless of their skill level.

Even if the “bad team” you’re coaching is the varsity team, they will benefit by focusing on the fundamentals. That will translate into success faster than anything else.

Game results are the most visible public guage of your team’s growth. Therefore, the temptation will be to focus practicing on big picture things like strategies, plays, and defensive schemes.

This “peak by Friday” mindset will stifle most true long-term progress.

Plays don’t work eighty percent of the time even with good players. Develop some overall philosophies, and then teach the fundamentals within those guidelines. When strategies and schemes break down, you need players that can perform skills.

Which do you spend more time coaching?


When coaching a bad team, develop achievable short term goals.

Winning games is difficult for your squad and may not be an achievable goal. Even if it is achievable, what happens when the other team gets an early lead or your best player gets injured? If the goal was just to win the game, then it just became very hard to achieve.

Some good examples of some sport-specific short term goals include the following:

  • hold the other team to less than 12 points each quarter (basketball)
  • keeping a clean sheet (soccer)
  • determine a scored-to-allowed ratio (volleyball)
  • commit less than five errors (baseball)

In his post-championship game interview, UCONN men’s basketball head coach Kevin Ollie pointed out that his team got three “kills” in the second half against Kentucky. The Huskies define a “kill” as three defensive possessions in a row where the opponent does not score. What a great short term goal! UCONN didn’t just go out there and say, “we play good defense.” They quantified it in short, achievable measures. Even a bad basketball team can focus on this.

Be creative with short term goals. Most importantly, keep them attainable. This will help your athletes focus regardless of the score.


When coaching a bad team, throw away most of your drills.

Most coaches need to better understand the science of skill acquisition. So many successful athletes will tell you that they learned their game most by just playing it. Obviously certain skills and techniques must be coached. However, if all you do is drill, then your players won’t see great improvement.

You need block drills in all sports for fundamental improvement.

But if you want your “bad team” to grow by leaps and bounds, you need to incorporate more scrimmaging in your practices.

Structure the rules of your scrimmage to help control the skills you’re highlighting. This will help teach your players “how to play” instead of “what to do.”



When coaching a bad team, recognize it for what it is. These are kids that God has placed under your authority.

Teach the things that really matter. Instruct them to be people of Biblical character. Teach them how to overcome adversity for God’s glory. Teach them the proper perspective of sports in a Christian’s life. You may coach a “bad team,” but God still has big plans for them regardless of their athletic prowess.


How have you approached coaching a “bad team?”

Jeff is the athletic director at Victory Baptist Academy. He is also the founder and administrator of

Please note: I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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6 thoughts on “Coaching a Bad Team

  1. The example of UConn is spot on. Obviously they are not a bad team, but they lost to Louisville by 31 on March 8, then won the national championship less than a month later. They were not discouraged, and they set short term goals which ultimately lead to their success.

  2. Along the lines of not getting discouraged when coaching a bad team, I would also say, don’t take losing personally, which for me, is easy to do!

    • I agree, Matt. It’s so hard not to take it personally. I think it’s important to get the team to understand that losing is a team issue. Personal responsibility comes into play from all member. However, everyone involved needs to recognize that it takes everyone to turn a bad team around; not just the coach.