By Jeff Janssen, Janssen Sports Leadership Center

Want to help your team peak in the postseason? Here are eight sure-fire strategies to ensure that your team is inspired, confident, and focused come “winning” time.

1. You don’t have to be best team in the nation, just the better one that day.
To win a championship, don’t feel like you have to be the absolute BEST team – because most of the time you won’t be. Convince your team that all you need to do is be the better team on the day you play each opponent. This breaks down winning a championship into much more manageable task.
2. Stick to routine that got you there.
Do what works for you. Don’t feel like you need to change up your whole routine and game plan. Stick to what works for you and trust it to work again during the postseason. Stay consistent with your routine. Remember that consistent preparation leads to consistent performance.
3. Execute the little things. Don’t beat yourself.
Championship teams are usually the ones who consistently do all the little things necessary to win. Focus your team on the top 3-5 battles you need to control to win the overall war. By focusing on and taking care of these little things, you force your opponents to beat you and often avoid beating yourself.
4. Expect the best but be prepared for the worst.
Expect good things to happen for your team – but as a leader you need to prepare your teammates not be fazed by the worst. Be ready to roll with the punches when there are travel delays, bus breakdowns, games running longer, illnesses, etc. Don’t allow people to use these as convenient excuses for why you can’t succeed.
In the book The Man Watching, which takes an in-depth look into the UNC women’s soccer program, Director of Soccer Operations Tom Sander relates the following story:“An assistant coach was sitting there freaking out because we’re late getting to the practice field, it’s pouring rain, Anson and Dino aren’t there, we don’t have the balls, our timetable’s shot, and everything’s out of whack. Meanwhile, the girls are sitting in the van listening to music, joking around, laughing. It didn’t faze them at all. That’s what the program is all about. Go with the flow, because you never know what’s going to happen next.”
As a leader, make sure that you and your team too can go with the flow, hassles, and distractions of tournament time.
5. Maintain your poise and work your plan.
ad-juniorDivisionThere will be many stressful moments but be sure to maintain your poise and composure. Trust your game plan and know that it will give you the best shot of being successful, even if you start off behind.
Going into the 2005 national championship game against the #1 ranked Illinois’ high-octane offense, North Carolina basketball coach Roy Williams realized that there would be a point when Illinois would get on a roll. He knew that his composure during this run might be a critical factor in the game and told himself, “Illinois is too good of a team not to make a run – I’ve got to be the calmest person in the crowd when they do.
“Sure enough, during a nine-minute span in the second half of the championship game, Illinois made 60% of their three-pointers to close within one of Carolina. As his panicked players came to the bench for the media time out, Coach Williams got their attention and calmly reminded them that everything was okay.
“Hey guys, we’re fine. Illinois is a great team; they’ve been ranked #1 most of the year. You have to expect them to hit some shots. But as the game goes on and the pressure mounts, they’ll start to tighten up. And there’s no way that they will continue to make those jump shots.
By preparing for and remaining calm in a potential crisis, Coach Williams effectively refocused his team and helped them weather the inevitable storm of adversity that too often spooks other teams. Carolina went on to win the 2005 national championship.
6. Know how to quickly refocus teammates.
Just as Coach Williams did above, coaches and captains must know how to quickly and effectively refocus teammates when they are down, distracted, aggravated, or scared. You can’t allow people to go into the tank when you need their focus, confidence, and performance.
In our Leadership Academies, the biggest positive change our student-athletes report is their ability to effectively refocus their teammates. It’s this key ability to keep their team’s competing play after play, rather than succumbing to the inevitable adversity, distractions, and hassles of competition, that determines the outcome of many games.
7. Compete aggressively.
liongazelleTake it to people, dictate the tempo, carpe diem… Go out and play the game with passion and intensity. Often it is the individual and team that is the most aggressive that comes out on top. Keep this in mind:Every morning in Africa, a gazelle wakes up. It knows it must run faster than the fastest lion or it will be killed.
Every morning a lion wakes up. It knows it must outrun the slowest gazelle or it will starve to death.The moral: It doesn’t matter if you are a lion or a gazelle. When the sun comes up, you better be running.
8. Go on a crusade… Become a team of DESTINY
Many of the teams that I have been fortunate to witness win championships felt they were destined to do so. No matter what situation they found themselves in, whether they were down with little time left, had a tough injury to a key player that could be treat in a sports clinic, or weren’t getting the appropriate calls, they somehow felt that it was never enough to deter them from reaching their ultimate goal. They persisted on and trusted the process that it was all meant to be.
Give your team every reason to feel they are destined for success. Assuming you have paid the price of success, remind your team that the training, your practices, and the lessons you learned throughout the season have all prepared you for this moment in time.
You want your team to feel – “This is our time.”The USA women’s soccer national team accomplished this by repeatedly using the phrase, “This is the team, now is the time.” Maryland women’s basketball coach Brenda Frese established this with the “Overtime is our time” phrase. The mindset helped the Terps expect success and go 6-0 in overtimes to win the 2006 national championship.
Postseason success is all about generating and maintaining a sense of positive psychological momentum. Use the above suggestions to help your team peak in the postseason.