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home | Sample Articles | How to Prepare Your Team for the Pos . . .

How to Prepare Your Team for the Postseason Whether You are an Underdog, Up and Comer, or Top Dawg

Jeff Janssen, Janssen Sports Leadership Center
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Looking to give your team the best shot of advancing and succeeding in the postseason?

How you prepare and motivate your team to succeed in the postseason depends in large part on the position that you are in. As playoff time approaches each season, you'll basically find your team in one of three positions: Underdog, Up and Comer, or Top Dawg. Here's a brief description of each.

Underdog - On paper your team appears to have little chance of succeeding because of a sub-par regular season record. Most often this is because you have less talent than your opponents, but could also be due to injuries, youth, and/or inconsistent play. Whatever the case, as football coach Bill Parcells once said, "You are what your record says you are." In this case, you are an "Underdog," and few people expect you to have much of a chance, perhaps even some of your athletes.

Up and Comer - Your team has a solid level of talent and you are looking to breakthrough to the next level and contend for a championship. Many programs get to this level but then come up against a perennial dominant program and have a hard time mentally and physically overcoming them.

Top Dawg - Your team is one of the clear favorites to win. Expectations are high and you are the team that everyone else is trying beat. You likely have a highly talented team and a great regular season record going for you, but now you must perform under the pressure of the playoffs.

Each of the playoff positions brings certain advantages and challenges that must be considered, prepared for, and discussed with your team to have them mentally ready to compete, and hopefully win.

Let's take an in-depth look at what you can do as a coaching staff and leadership team to best prepare your team to survive, advance, and succeed in the postseason, whether you are an Underdog, Up and Comer, or Top Dawg.


Interestingly, whether you are a struggling Underdog, highly-ranked Top Dawg, or somewhere in between, each of the positions comes with some clear challenges that must be overcome. Let's explore each of them in turn.

Underdog Challenges

As an Underdog, you'll have some real challenges on the physical and mental fronts. Your biggest challenge is likely that you just don't have the talent necessary to compete. Even if your team brings it's "A" game, it still might not be enough to beat some teams.

Further, from a mental standpoint, your team likely doesn't have much confidence and belief based on the negative results from the regular season. Your team may be pessimistic about its chances and may be ready for the whole season to end. Finally, you'll likely be on the road for all of the playoffs and you may have waning parent and fan support. Realistically, this is not a great situation to be in on the surface, but there can be hope if you frame it right.

Up and Comer Challenges

The primary challenge for the Up and Coming team is your ability to get your athletes to believe that you can actually beat the best teams. Often there is a psychological ceiling that your athletes (and sometimes coaches) put in place when you think they just can't beat the big name team like UConn women's basketball, or Alabama football, or UNC women's soccer, or Kentucky men's basketball, or Penn State volleyball, etc.

Further, if your team has never advanced this far before, they might get psyched out by having the chance to play or win on the big stage of a Final Four, Women's College World Series, or state championship. It's easy to get caught up in all the hoopla and just be happy to be there - versus a team that is focused and on a mission to get the job done. Up and Comers have the chance to do something special, if only you can get your team to believe and breakthrough.

Top Dawg Challenges

Despite what you might think, even Top Dawg teams face challenges heading into postseason play. Expectations are typically the toughest because everyone only considers the season a success if you win it all - anything less than that is deemed a big disappointment. This often causes teams to think they must be perfect each time out, which obviously won't happen.

Further, everyone is gunning for the Top Dawg, so they must take and thwart each opponents' best shot. Top Dawgs also need to worry about untimely injuries and must contend with judgment-impaired officials, poor weather or playing conditions, and other seemingly minor hassles that that can all throw a major wrench into what was supposed to be a championship season. Finally, every Top Dawg coach fears overconfidence. If their athletes take an un-ranked opponent too lightly, especially in the early rounds, it is a major embarrassment. Of course, it's always nice to be a Top Dawg and have the most talent going into the tournament, but it isn't without its challenges.


So given these various playoff positions and accompanying challenges, there are specific things you should do as a coaching staff and leadership team to prepare your team as the postseason approaches. Here are dozens of proven strategies you can use to get your team mentally ready to compete whether you are an Underdog, Up and Comer, or Top Dawg.

10 Proven Strategies for Preparing the Underdog for the Postseason are available to our Championship Coaches Network members. Click here to join today!

Members - Click here to read 10 Proven Strategies for Preparing the Underdog Team for the Postseason

Members - Click here to read 13 Proven Strategies for Preparing the Up and Coming Team for the Postseason

Members - Click here to read 13 Proven Strategies for Preparing the Top Dawg Team for the Postseason

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·  13 Proven Strategies for Preparing the Top Dawg Team for the Postseason
·  13 Proven Strategies for Preparing Up and Comers for the Postseason
·  10 Proven Strategies for Preparing the Underdog for the Postseason