Coaches are fortunate to experience the most successful and challenging of environments on a seasonal basis. No sooner does the “perfect” season end that coaches find themselves in a state of challenge – rebuilding or raising success levels.
As coaches conduct exit interviews with their athletic directors and administrators, it is important for coaches to bring closure with their athletes and the community that supports them through a postseason ceremony. These gatherings do not have to be lengthy or arduous, but they should have purpose to recognize team accomplishments and individual contributions of all players, and prepare athletes for the future.
Sites and Time of Ceremonies
Different schools and districts may have policies regarding postseason gatherings, so be sure to check with administration for specific rules; however, the site and time of a postseason ceremony should be determined before the conclusion of the season. It is also important to consider having postseason gatherings after all possible awards have been determined. In this way, coaches can recognize all the accomplishments of team members and allow for athletes to share their accolades with their teammates.
Determining whether to have a ceremony on or off campus is an important discussion as both have benefits and drawbacks. Having a postseason ceremony off site might increase school and district liability while opening up potential avenues for alcohol and drug abuse. If food is involved, having a postseason ceremony onsite might require following different health requirements.
For example, a team might like its ceremony to be at a sponsor’s pizza parlor rather than bringing pizza to a campus. Regardless of the site, the coach has a duty to supervise the athletes to ensure a safe environment. It is important to make sure that the venue is appropriate and large enough for the team and family members to keep the environment safe and welcoming.
The length of a ceremony is important as well. Postseason socials are not the Academy Awards, and even those individuals who win the Most Valuable Player awards will probably have more success outside of the high school athletic season. As a result, appropriate time constrictions should be established. People value their time and putting time restrictions on ceremonies will allow everyone to plan their schedules in a more orderly fashion. As a general guideline, most postseason ceremonies, even with food, should not exceed 90 minutes.
Recognize Team Accomplishments
Once the time and venue have been selected, coaches should compose ideas to share regarding the season. Coaches can share the team and individual successes as well as meaningful personal reflections.
In terms of preparation, coaches can 1) focus on memories that bring perspective to the season and continue team traditions, 2) highlight accomplishments of team goals, and 3) share experiences that brought the team closer and helped to build character. If any team GPA, citizenship, competitive goals or other recognitions are received by the team, this is also a great time to recognize those efforts.
Recognize Individual Contributions
Although not every team member may have been the best or contributed as much as another, each individual should be recognized in a few words at a postseason ceremony. The athletes have given hours of their life to the school program, and their dedication should not go unnoticed.
A few positive words and reflections by a coach to explain how an individual athlete helped the team goes a long way in helping students develop pride and self-esteem. In some cases, this may be the only forum where athletes are validated for their contributions. Sadly, there are cases where the hypercompetitive parent downgrades the child and coaching staff for not achieving the desired win/loss outcomes.
It is also during this time that coaches can draw attention to those senior participants by sharing the impact they made. Underclassmen can learn about school and team culture through these words and may decide to further commit themselves to the school and community by accepting the challenge of being a new team leader.
Prepare Athletes for the Future
It is important to finish up postseason ceremonies with energy and excitement. A good way to frame this is by sharing how the offseason should be a time for athletes to try new sports and continue to develop their academics. In addition, coaches should share their general hopes regarding next season’s challenges. Finally, coaches who end the ceremonies by reiterating how lucky they are to work with their athletes – the future leaders of the world – gives a positive spin on leaving a season that will want everyone wanting more.
Dr. Steve Amaro, CMAA, is the tennis coach and athletic director at Freedom High School in Oakley, California, and a member of the High School Today Publications Committee.