How to play when there’s nothing left to play for

Thanks to Coach Julia Tamai from UCSB Softball for the inspiration for this article.

Have you ever experienced that moment when it’s obvious that this season just isn't going down in the record books? When it’s become clear you aren't going to win a championship, or make the playoffs, or even win that often?

Let’s be honest. That moment... It sucks.

And, yet, it’s the reality for so many teams. After all, there is only one team that ends their season with a win in the playoffs. ONE TEAM!

So, listen up. I have some advice for the majority of you out there when it comes to making the most of this kind of shattering discouragement.

Being number one on the wrong list

In my senior year of college, my team was terrible. What made it even worse was that my previous three years playing at the school had been a dream: We’d won multiple conference championships, attended the NCAA tournament every year, ranked as high as #3 in the country... then, all of a sudden, when it was MY team to lead, we were awful. We lost all the time—at home (which NEVER happened before), on the road, out of conference play. You name it, we lost there.

In the beginning of the season, when the losses started piling up, we told ourselves, “We’re just young. We have time.” But by the middle of the year the writing was on the wall: We were going down in the history books alright…

…as the first losing record my coach had claimed since arriving at the college.


I tell you all this to say: I know the feeling.

I also tell you this to say: That feeling shouldn't stop you.

"If you are afraid of failure you don't deserve to be successful." - Charles Barkely

So, what is there to do after (or during) a disappointing season? Well, it’s not easy, but here are my:

4 Ways to Stay Motivated When There’s Nothing Left to Play For

#1. Don’t stop caring

Losing hurts. I see a lot of athletes try to take that pain away by not caring anymore. It’s sort of like having a person in your life that lets you down a lot and, at some point, you just stop having any expectations that they’ll change. Without expectations, you get disappointed less frequently; you stop feeling the pain of being let down.

But, if you do that in sports you stop investing in winning. When you have no expectations, sure you protect yourself from pain, but you also shelter yourself from really living and really playing.

The pain is part of it. If you try to avoid the pain you miss out on really giving yourself over to your sport. And that should be the whole purpose of the game, anyway.

#2. Reframe your goalsWhen there's nothing left to play for, try reframing your goals

That said, when there are truly no more goals to strive for it can be helpful to think of new ones. What are you playing for? What would make you feel good at the end of this game or the end of this season?

Don’t think too far in advance; take it day by day, game by game, even practice by practice. Work on specific skills; manage your emotions better; have fun even when it’s really, really hard; pick up a teammate who is down; do SOMETHING positive and feel good about it.

Without goals, even small ones, you’re just taking up space and that is worse even than losing.

"Don't quit. You're already hurt. You're already in pain. Get a reward from it."

#3. Keep loving the ‘game’

Regardless of how often you are winning or losing there is still a part of you that loves competing and loves your sport. Remember that little girl or little boy that first picked up a bat or dove into the pool? Remember the first soccer game you had and the freedom you felt running across the field? That love is still there! Don’t let the difficulties of ‘adult’ competition spoil that for you!

Think of what you loved as a child playing your sport. It’s the same now and, whether you win or lose, you can still love your sport.

[Tweet "Disappointment cannot stop me! Still caring & still loving the game with @PositivePerform"]

 #4. Know that nobody owes you anything

When you first laced up your cleats or threw your first touchdown or ran your first race you felt that exhilaration of physical competition. Wow, what a feeling! But no one said it would be easy or that the glory would be constant. The struggle is PART of the glory.

Remember all that your sport has given you: opportunities, friendships, a place to struggle and triumph, maybe travel. Your sport has given you far more than you can ever repay. It doesn’t owe you medals or victories or championships. It only owes you a place to grow and that is exactly what you are getting every day you step out onto the field.

Bring back (or maintain!) that competitive edge with our latest course, Competition MasteryTM.

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