Moving on from tough early losses keeps seasons intact

A crowded locker room can be a lonely place after a crushing defeat or a blowout loss. Helmeted heads down, slouched over in a silent locker room except the clack of the cleats and the muffled crowd noise. A devastating loss can bring a season crashing down on even the strongest programs. Like a crushing defeat in the last seconds or a loss that wasn’t close from start to finish, how do coaches get their teams refocused and ready for the following game?

“Whenever you come out on the wrong side of the coin in a highly competitive game, you’re kids have put in a ton of emotion already. As coaches we obviously put in a tremendous amount of time and emotion into the game, however, there is nothing you can do with the past except learn from it,” said Loyalsock coach Justin Van Fleet. “We try to turn the page pretty quickly whether it’s a win or a loss and get prepared for the next week. The nice part about football is there’s a next week until you’re through. Meaning you have a full week of preparation and practice to get ready and to make your way forward.”

Van Fleet’s Lancers opened the season with a highly-emotional 43-41 loss to Mt. Carmel, but his team came back the following week and defeated Shamokin by 20 points. Van Fleet likes to keep his players focused on the following game, always looking forward. Not allowing negative thoughts from the previous weeks loss to enter their minds so much that it hinders their play, but just enough to keep them aware.

“I can remember every one of my losses since I’ve been the head coach and certainly as a player and as an assistant coach. You know how and why and you often find ways to correct it,” Van Fleet said. “Often times in a win whether weren’t real efficient or you didn’t get things done, it’s a lot more difficult to analyze how to get better. Our message is always about being the best reflection of ourselves and putting our best foot forward in what we’re doing. Not only in games but in practice and everywhere else and with that concerning, I think that allows us to move forward effectively.”

Other teams dealt with similar issues. Jersey Shore fell 17-13 to Bellefonte before beating Troy last week, 31-0. Montgomery lost its opener to South Williamsport before beating Cowanesque Valley last week.

South Williamsport opened its season with that 42-point win over Montgomery, but now the Mounties are in the same situation Loyalsock was last Friday, heading into game night with a crushing loss on its mind. South dropped a 34-33 double overtime heartbreaker to Danville last Friday when the Mounties were stacked up on a two-point conversion. Now South coach Chris Eiswerth gets to see how his 2017 squad responds after a tough loss.

“No. 1, if you had a game that was close and it came down to the wire; odds are your team played pretty well. You have to be happy with that because sometimes you can play really well and lose a game on the scoreboard. If you play well and make a few mistakes and fall short, for us we just get right back to it,” Eiswerth said. “There really isn’t much difference between winning and losing for the coaches and kids. Your pride’s hurt and you’re not feeling as good but you have to come back and evaluate the film if you win or lose. We’ll continue to do the little things and try to improve. You want to take care of the little things because the little things take care of the big things. Just try to keep things upbeat and motivated. The kids know how well if they played. This week, we had probably the best week we had. Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, the kids had energy and worked hard. We didn’t get the last play we needed but the kids knew we were against a much larger opponent and there’s things you can feel good about.”

“We try to take the same outlook if we win or lose because sometimes when you win, you have to pull them back a little because everyone’s patting them on the head and saying how good you are and sometimes close loses really help your team because it helps players get refocused,” Eiswerth added.

Montoursville is in a different situation. The reigning District 4 Class AAA champions graduated 17 starters from that team and now a much younger squad is battling week in and week out against tough opponents with much more experience. A quality program with a strong tradition is in unfamiliar territory where the scores have been lopsided on the wrong side for the first two weeks. A challenge for most to keep the players moving forward in a tough season, but Montoursville coach J.C. Keefer continues to lead a hardworking yet young squad.

“Get in and get back after it whether you win or lose. It’s so difficult because I’ve had teams that have a big win and don’t respond well after the week. It’s easier to respond after you lose because you want to work harder and have that passion and get back on the winning track,” Keefer said. “Our kids are tough and motivated. They want to play better and they’re improving and that’s all you can ask from these kids.”