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Playing Afraid is No Fun: How to Avoid the Snowball Effect

December 20, 2013    6538 Views

Gordon Corsetti | @atlantayouthlax

Avoiding the snowball effect

One player drops a pass. Then a second, and a third. Suddenly, every player cannot pick up a ground ball and every shot is wide of the cage. What is going wrong?

The answer: Your team has fallen victim to the snowball effect.

According to Urban Dictionary, the snowball effect is “descriptive of an entity or situation where something once small and relatively insignificant grows exponentially at a swift pace, engulfing everything in its path.”

The symptoms are originally small and hard to detect. Example: A missed ground ball quickly turns the ball over to the other team and your team deflates. Ultimately, the team cannot get over the accumulation of small missteps and the game is lost far before it ends.

We see this in every professional sport.

A pitcher can’t find the plate for two innings. The coach comes out says, “Man, just relax and forget about those two innings.”

During a football game, the special teams give up huge chunks of yards on every kickoff in the first half. During halftime, the coach says, “Fellas, calm down. We still have two more quarters to go.”

After those little pep talks, most players at the professional level dust themselves off and forget about their poor performance. Then they strike out the next three batters or pin the offense at the two yard line.

Yet, we cannot make the mistake of treating youth players like professional athletes.

These strategies for curbing the snowball effect simply do not apply. Most kids get down on themselves if they make too many mistakes. They don’t have the experience to say, “Ok, I screwed up earlier, but that is behind me now.” Instead, every mistake builds on itself and leads to the next one, and the next one—until the player is too afraid to move.

Stopping the snowball effect in a game starts with practicing failure. If this sounds odd—well—it is. If practice makes perfect, then how come teams that do well in practice come up short in games? It is because they did not practice how to fail on the field.

Ever see a player get the ball checked out of his stick and just stands there wondering how he let that happen? Or the player who misses a ground ball and decides to wallow in self-pity instead of turning around and making a play?

These situations happen all of the time at the youth level because kids think it is the end of the world if they screw up with everyone watching them. Practicing failure steels players against self-pity and dejection.

Properly practicing failure requires an environment that welcomes mistakes as an opportunity to improve. Tell your players that making a mistake will never make you as a coach upset, but standing still and forgetting to play after a mistake will draw your ire.

To develop this skill, take a few minutes out of each practice and make your players feed poor passes to one another. If they catch the ball, great. If not, they’ll learn to forget about the bad pass and run to pick up the ground ball behind them. Do a ground ball drill and tell the players to miss the ground ball, then turn around and pick it up. Forcing your players into situations where they experience failure teaches them how to forget about it and move onto the next play.

The next time your team starts to snowball in a game, call a timeout. When they circle around you, remind them how you practiced never giving up on the play. Remind them that you do not care if they make mistakes, only that they try and fix them. Do this and watch that snowball get smaller and smaller, until it finally disappears.

Gordon is a born lacrosse official who played for ten years before realizing he'd much rather ref the game than play it. He lives in Atlanta, Ga., and officiates youth, high school and collegiate men's lacrosse games all over the southeast. His passion is educating and training officials, coaches, players, parents and fans on the rules and history of lacrosse, and how best to develop lacrosse in new areas. Contact Gordon at and visit his Atlanta Youth Lacrosse blog.

Photo Credit: Kamyar Adl

Positive Coaching Alliance

Need more help eliminating the snowball effect? Check out this free resource from the Positive Coaching Alliance on how to develop mistake rituals with your team.


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