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In the Huddle: How to follow a tough loss

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Great teams know that the next game is always the most important one. Terry Dennis explains how the Tigers are equipped to handle the sting of week one and use it to make themselves better.

NCAA Football: Missouri at Wyoming Troy Babbitt-USA TODAY Sports

Victory Sunday is something every football player plans for at the end of game week.

It’s the day following a win, getting the chance to cool down and recover. Like a typical Sunday, players lift then break into special teams meetings. The head coach goes over the goals from the previous game, diagramming which goals were met on a chart for all three phases of the game. For coaches, evaluation begins that morning (or night of in some cases). They spend hours alone and as a group — going over each quarter, series, play, and player — grading out the performances. Many times it is clear which team was better; other times it’s more difficult to determine who should have won.

There are, however, times like this past week, where mental errors, turnovers, missed assignments, and miscues are put on display. Coaches have to point out the areas that directly contributed to a tough loss. When that happens, there is no Victory Sunday.

The Sunday following a loss means there’s practice to attend. The day otherwise is somewhat typical of any other week; players go through meetings and receive coaching points on their performances. But following a loss, it’s an opportunity for coaches to talk accountability.

Former Independence Community College Head Coach (and Last Chance U mogul), Jason Brown once said, “Players win games, coaches lose them.” Gary Pinkel consistently shared this phrase — more relevant after Saturday’s demoralizing loss — “If we bring our A game, we can beat anyone. We bring our B game and anyone can beat us.” While some might argue Mizzou left their B, C, and D game somewhere back home, there is no denying that the A game was not present.

Following a crushing loss — particularly one you had the pieces to win — the day after takes a different toll. It’s a time to reflect on what went wrong, but it gives you a starting point to move forward to next week.

A tough loss requires a collective team decision to correct the things that led to that result. Since teams are judged by their most recent performance, it’s important for coaches and the team leaders to prioritize that the most important game is the next one. The temptation to look at the past for verification or to look past the next opponent is present. But teams must understand that they can’t judge themselves by their last result, but how they prepare for the next one.

Attention to detail is key, and it starts from the top-down. Come Tuesday practice, coaches and players start fresh. Practice is normal, but with a renewed understanding and sense of urgency. Team leaders speak a little more sternly and ask more of themselves as well as their teammates. Coaches pay close attention to the habits and body language of the players as to not repeat the cycle of what led to the loss in the first place.

Though it may sound backwards, a tough loss can be just what great teams need. It can create a sense of humility— which may be needed— surrounding the hype of this Mizzou football team and its new additions from the offseason. The team understands this is not the Mizzou of old, where fans expect to be let down. These are new coaches, players, teammates, and a new culture. What many may not understand — but those involved seem to always figure out — is that the noise surrounding the state of the program is not an accurate representation of what happens internally. Tough losses are short-lived at Mizzou, and the opportunity to start fresh for the next week is imminent.

What distinguishes Missouri from other programs is the ability to reset and refocus. Tough losses hurt for the moment, but approaching the next game as the top priority is something many great teams have consistently embodied. Mizzou has the potential to be one of those teams.

Any loss has the ability to bring up emotions for those surrounding the program. People call for the head coach’s head and slip back into thinking, “Same old, same old.” They think they can tell the tale for the whole season based off week one.

Internally, it falls on deaf ears. No one understands what’s at stake more so than the team and its coaches. The opportunity to reset rests on the shoulders of those involved, and under that realization, tough losses are treated as opportunities rather than failures. Coaches and players know that they’re qualified to be in these positions.

Tough losses are opportunities to create even greater results. It’s not about how you start. It’s how you finish.