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How to Handle Losing in Volleyball

For whatever reason, your team got off to a slow start, gave up a ton of points early on, and couldn’t dig its way out of the hole. Or maybe, your team gave everything it had and battled hard all the way through, but in the end, came up a few points short of a victory in the initial set. No matter how you package it, losing is unpleasant. But a first game loss isn’t the end of the world — in fact, it isn’t even the end of the match. The way you handle a first game loss can either facilitate a quick bounce-back or undermine a team’s confidence for the next game.

As such, it’s important to make sure that a negative mindset doesn’t hamper the team’s performance in the next game. Here are a few tips to help your team rebound after a loss in the first game.

Shake It Off

If sulking is your favorite past time, then volleyball may not be the sport for you. After a first game loss, you and your teammates will have approximately three minutes until the start of the next game. Translation: You don’t have time to sit around and dwell on everything that went wrong. This doesn’t mean that you should disregard the mistakes made in the first set; mistakes can be an awesome learning opportunity. But you can’t let your past performance dictate your future.

There are plenty of ways to get your mind off the recent loss and prepare for the next game. A team cheer could lift the spirits and refocus the group. Or even a brief pep-talk from a team captain or coach could help the team get into a better mindset. Whatever your technique, the most important thing is to leave the past behind you and set your sights on the upcoming game. Let the countdown begin …

Amazingly True Story

 There are countless dramatic comeback stories sprinkled throughout NCAA Women’s volleyball history. However, few are acted out on a national stage and even fewer have national championship implications.

On the night of December 16, 1984, the UCLA women’s volleyball team pulled off the greatest comeback in school history. Facing Stanford University, a volleyball powerhouse, UCLA appeared to be outmatched. The Bruins’ performance in the first two sets of the match did little to persuade naysayers, as UCLA quickly fell behind. Rallying from two-game deficit, UCLA proceeded to take the next three sets. The victory capped a magical season, and resulted in UCLA’s first NCAA national title.

Learn from the Loss

One play is never the deciding factor in a game. Rather, losses are the product of a combination of different causes: Bad passing, poor execution, lack-luster effort, or missed serves are just a few of the variables that can add up to an “L” in the win/loss column. The ability to identify the mistakes that lead to the loss will help you correct those errors, and thus, prepare you for the next game.

The trick is to point out the mistakes that are easily correctable. Some mistakes have simple solutions and others require a more complicated fix. For example, if an opponent scored a majority of its points by tipping the ball short, you could easily solve that problem by shifting the defense so that a defender is in a better position to pick up the tips. This fix is simple, quick, and doesn’t require a change in technique.

Changes that require an overhaul in technique are almost impossible to make during game situations, because breaking a bad habit requires numerous repetitions. Fixes like those are best done during practice. Briefly assess whether the mistakes are easily correctable, and then act accordingly.

Don't Panic

Dropping the first set of a match isn’t a sufficient reason to abandon ship. If the game plan you came into the match with has a history of success, then don’t be too quick to jump the gun and change your whole playing philosophy.

Overcompensating by making a ton of changes before the next game can throw off the team’s natural rhythm and essentially cause more problems than it fixes. Be cautious when making major changes to the game plan or lineup. After all, a bad performance in the first set could just be an anomaly, and your team may perform much better the second time around without any changes.

Play Loose

High stress situations, like playing from behind, can greatly increase the amount of tension in your body. This could spell bad news for your on-court performance and your general well-being. When the body is tight, executing simple movements can become a daunting chore. Specifically, your reaction times may be slower due to hesitation.

The Big Picture

Winning is great, but the ultimate goal for every team should be improvement. For this reason, failure can be an efficient and effective motivator. So don’t let a first-game loss ruin the outlook for the rest of the match. If you drop the first set, take a deep breath, and start preparing yourself for the upcoming game.

Losing the first set of a volleyball match is an obstacle on the path to victory, but obstacles were made to be conquered. Read on for tips on how to recover after a loss
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