Trust me, if you aren’t making mistakes, you’re not learning — or, at least, you’re not learning enough.
The Miracle of Making Mistakes
I enjoyed this article because it has been my mantra as a coach for as long as I can remember and I can’t imagine that there are too many coaches out there who want the sort of timidity that comes from playing it safe. That quotation above is from an article in the Harvard Business Review (HBR), which I’d highly recommend you read by following the link. The fun part of my job is getting across to my players that there is joy in making mistakes and that those mistakes are the best way to get better and here’s how you can teach the same lesson.
First: Learn to take risks
The opening of the HBR article talks about our obsession with perfection: from getting A’s in the classroom to avoiding getting in trouble with mom and dad…we’re hard wired at a young age to not make mistakes. So it’s our obligation as coaches to explain that mistakes are a part of the game and that neither you nor they should expect perfection. I usually tell my team that if they make twenty five different mistakes, that’s great! But making twenty five of the same mistakes? Not so great. They should take risks and make new mistakes every day. As the German proverb says, “you will become clever through your mistakes.”
Second: Learn to manage their emotions when taking risks
Using volleyball as an example, how will your players learn that their heart will be pounding out of their chests when they’ve got the serve and it’s match point? How will they learn to manage their breathing, their thoughts, and their self-talk if you don’t put them in those pressure situations (in practices and games) and coach them through it? And that’s the key. It’s our jobs as coaches to equip them with the tools that they need to successfully navigate risk-taking.
Third: Learn how to turn failure on its head
This is where your athletes learn that making mistakes will pay off for them. If they’re challenging themselves to master new skills, they’re going to fail because it’s new. But if they keep at it, they’ll fail themselves forward and acquire a new skill that they can use to challenge competitors. Imagine if a baby decided that it could do everything it needed to do by crawling everywhere…how limited would their lives be?! The same is true for athletes! It’s our jobs as coaches to challenge our athletes and to give them enough knowledge in practice that they can self-correct mid-competition…and I believe that knowledge is the key to taking smart risks and making smart mistakes.
How do you encourage your team to make mistakes? Do you think you create an environment where your athletes feel comfortable making mistakes?