Category Archives: Mistakes

Advice For New Coaches


I was watching the local news last night and my favorite station was debuting a new meteorologist.  Just for background, I live in a smallish city, so we seem to be the testing ground for all new and untested TV personalities.

This poor guy was so bad, tripped over his words so often, and had so many awkward pauses that I turned the channel.  Not because I was upset that I couldn’t figure out what the weather was supposed to be…but because I was terribly uncomfortable for the guy.  Then I forced myself to turn back, because we’ve all been there.  We’ve all been new.  We’ve all been driving the struggle bus.  We’ve all failed.

It’s not that he didn’t know his weather-man stuff, I’m sure he does!  His trouble wasn’t with knowledge, it was with speaking actual words.  But lest you think I’m making fun of his failure, I most certainly am not.  I’ve got a story of epic failure, too…as I’m sure most coaches worth their salt do.

Dawn’s story of new-coach failure

My first coaching gig was with a club team.  I was super organized.  The team was well-prepared.  I’d done all the appropriate teaching, motivating, and leading.  We were ready!  As the team did our warmup (that I’d stolen from some of the best and most successful teams), the official came over and handed me a lineup sheet.

I’d never seen one before.  So I wrote down the six numbers of the people who were going to be starting.

When he did the obligatory check at the beginning of the game, he came over and said everyone was in the wrong place.  I had to use, like, six substitutions just to be able to start the game with the correct lineup.  The team was looking at me like, “what’s going on?” and I’m sure I had some stupid look on my face.


I couldn’t even think about coaching the team, because I was mortified at my mistake and my lack of knowledge.  But I did keep coaching that team and many teams after it.  That horrific mess of coaching was seventeen years ago.

Moral of the story

You’re going to screw up.  It’s pretty much guaranteed.  The only thing you don’t know is how that failure will present itself.  It could be like my poor meteorologist who couldn’t do the basics of human communication or like myself, who thought I had all of my I’s dotted and T’s crossed…only to get tripped up by a simple lineup sheet.

Sometimes failure is the only way to learn.  I can assure you that even to this day, I triple check my lineup sheet to make sure it’s correct.  Beyond that, we learn that we’ll live through the embarrassment of failure.  We learn that failure isn’t the worst thing in the world.

Michael Jordan said, “I’ve failed over and over again in my life, and that’s why I succeed”…wise words.


Posted by on July 7, 2014 in Coaching philosophy, Mistakes

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The Power Of Mistakes

make new mistakessource

As I’m sure you can imagine, I love chatting with other coaches about our profession.  I was talking to another volleyball coach and asked him what he’d want me to see if I walked into his gym during a practice.  He said connectedness.

For him, connectedness looked like great communication between players, high energy from coaches, and players holding one another accountable.  He said he didn’t want a mistake to go by without players communicating to make sure it didn’t happen again.

According to Daniel Coyle on his blog, talented groups create “a shared place where mistakes [aren’t] hidden, but discussed in the clear light of day.”  Sounds a lot like my coaching friend’s gym.

So how can we create this atmosphere?  Where players discuss mistakes rather than roll their eyes?

3 ways to create a space for athletes to learn from mistakes

  1. Talk about it.  Let your players know that mistakes are okay.  I always tell my team at the first practice of the season that they’ll make lots of mistakes over the course of the season…some big, some small.  As long as they make different mistakes, we’re good.
  2. Be consistent.  It’s helpful to have some sort of process for discussing mistakes.  Figuring that out ahead of time will help keep feelings from getting hurt.  If you’ve got an open policy in your gym, then freshmen should be able to critique a senior.  Whatever your team dynamics, be sure that everyone is on the same page.
  3. Model it.  Admit your own mistakes.  Hopefully your story of mistakes has a positive ending you can use to motivate your team.

Let’s help our athletes connect by working through their mistakes together.


Posted by on February 17, 2014 in Mistakes

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How To Cure A Slump Of Confidence


Slumps are unexplainable.  Sometimes it hits just a single player, while other times it hits an entire team at once.  The worst part is that, by its very definition, a slump has to attack a vital member of the team…someone on whom everyone is counting.  Is it a slump if a bad player continues to perform poorly?  I don’t think so.

One thing is for sure, slumps are frustrating for everyone involved.  While the slump manifests itself as a severe drop in skill level, I happen to believe there’s an equally (if not more critical) dip in confidence that affects slumping players.  Imagine the player whose identity is wrapped up in being the best at what they do and what would happen to their confidence when they stopped being at the top of the heap.

So what can coaches do to help this player revive their confidence and regain their top skill level?

4 Steps We Can Take To Address A Player’s Slump

  1. Don’t talk about confidence.  I wouldn’t suggest starting the conversation with, “So you’re lacking confidence…”.  An elite athlete will almost never admit to losing their confidence even if it’s true.  Beyond that, confidence and skill are intertwined so addressing the skill will more than likely take care of the confidence issue as well.
  2. Address self-talk.  Many times, I’ll ask athletes who are consistently struggling in a particular area, what they say to themselves before they perform the skill.  Without fail, they’re telling themselves, “don’t do this” or “be careful”…some sort of passive or fearful self-talk.  Our goal has to be to get them to say what they will do correctly instead of filling themselves with doom and gloom over what could possibly go wrong.
  3. Work on a specific, tangible skill with specific goals.  Most likely, our slumping player thinks everything they’re doing is awful and they’re just a hot mess.  Our job is to pick one tangible skill that can be worked on and give our player cues to replay in their head when they’re performing that skill.  A specific goal combined with a tangible skill could be something like:  “I’m going to come to practice fifteen minutes early to practice every day for two weeks and work on keeping my elbow high when I serve.”
  4. Visualize success. The next thing we can do for our athlete is to give her steps to visualize her success.  There is all sorts of research out there that says that our bodies react the same to a realistically imagined event as they do to the real thing.  Meaning, if our player visualizes herself serving an ace on game point, cheering with her team, and the officials signaling the end of the game…her heart rate will increase just as if it were happening in reality.

Most of us will have to deal with a player going through an unexpected slump and they’ll be looking to us to help them figure things out.  Check out this post, How To Fix A Slump, for more information…the comments section was particularly festive.


Posted by on September 19, 2012 in Mental game, Mistakes

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How Sports Teach Creativity


In the eyes of most, my title is Coach Wooden, but from my earliest years I have viewed my primary job as educating others. –John Wooden

I always enjoy reading things about the education system, because I believe that sports participation is a part of (and not an addition to) the educational experience of student-athletes.  In a great TEDtalk about the global educational system called, Ken Robinson Says Schools Kill Creativity, he talks about how we “educate” novel and innovative ideas right out of the children.  Very interesting.

I’m not what you would call a creative person.  I can’t draw.  I sing, but not well.  I like to shake my booty, but I wouldn’t call myself a dancer.  In coaching though, I’ve found that creativity is a must.  If a coach isn’t creative, how on Earth will they create a team out of a group of diverse individuals?  If a coach isn’t creative, how are they able to make in-game adjustments to defeat an opponent?  If a coach isn’t creative, how are we able to keep team after team motivated and excited about our sport?

So let’s talk about creativity and how we can give our athletes a different definition of creativity than they’re used to.

What is creativity?  Robinson calls it “the process of having original ideas that have value.”  For a player to step out and try something very new and very different will require them to use their creativity.  While the idea may be old to the coach who’s teaching it, it’s brand new to the athlete and they’ve got to step out and believe in something their brain doesn’t necessarily understand…that’s creativity!  The willingness to try new things, without self-conscious worry of the outcome, is a great gift we coaches can give to our athletes.

How can we encourage creativity?  In his TEDtalk, he says that we stigmatize mistakes in our educational system so much so that we end up teaching our students that mistakes are bad rather than a stepping stone to an amazing breakthrough.  And we wonder why we have such a hard time getting our teams to understand that making a mistake isn’t the worst thing in the world!  If we read business magazines and blogs, we’ll see that most successful folks in business have had epic failures in their past…and learned from them.

Why creativity?  Great quote from the video: “If you’re not prepared to be wrong, you’ll never come up with anything original.”  I encourage bravery and risk-taking in my gym…how else will they test their limits?  Sure, sometimes they’ll screw up, but if we’ve taught our athletes that mistakes are okay, then they won’t be afraid to make them.  I’ve coached the player who won’t go outside of their comfort zone and it’s sad.  They’re pretty good, but they’re so afraid of messing up and looking silly that they won’t push their outer limits.  Those players are always pretty good…but they’ll never know how good they could have been.

Let’s agree to encourage creativity rather than kill it.  Our athletes will be better off for it.


Posted by on June 6, 2012 in Mistakes, TEDtalk

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How To Handle Criticism Constructively


The definition of criticism is to pass judgment or find fault with something.


Right away, we’re swimming upstream when we ask our athletes to want to hear our constructive criticism.  Did you wake up this morning hoping someone would pass judgment on how you do your job?  I didn’t and most likely you didn’t either.

Yet, it’s the job of a coach to find and fix faults.  Hopefully we can do it without reducing our teams to walking puddles of tears, but that’s not always up to the coach.  The athlete plays a part in this as well.  We owe it to our athletes to equip them with tools to handle the criticism…even though they may not like it.

A 5-step process for handling constructive criticism

  1. Swallow pride.  The hackles that are raised from criticism are usually from pride.  If you’ve got a player who says “I know” before you can finish your sentence, she’s got a pride problem.  Every person, even players on the national team, needs to improve and can benefit from correction.
  2. Listen to those with experience.  If you’re like me, you empower your captains and upperclassmen to correct as well.  Skill in a vacuum is useless…your team leaders have been around the block a few times and can help the underclassmen avoid pitfalls along the way.  We’ve got to prep them to listen to their captains and put the corrections into action.
  3. Ask questions.  Sometimes my underclassmen don’t understand this concept, but when the senior captain (who’s also all conference or all-American) wants to spend time making them better…they’d better listen!  This is their time to mine that person’s brain for any tips to their success.
  4. Be respectful of those who’ve gone before.   Maybe you have your alums come back and play in an alumni game or even practice against your current players.  Make sure they’re respectful of those who’ve already been there and done that.  I believe there is value in experience…especially successful experience.  I try to make sure our current players understand the alums are the foundation our team is built upon.  If an alum has a correction, the current player’s only job is to smile and nod.
  5. Make your own path.  Coaches, teammates, alums…we all have the best interests of the program at heart.  As a coach, I don’t want my players to replicate one another, but to become better than the one before them.  Success will look different for each player, but their path to success will be shorter and smoother if they’re able to accept and apply correction.

In an article called, Giving and Getting Constructive Criticism, on the Chronicle of Higher Education’s website, the author talks about her struggles in getting her graduate students to listen to her feedback.  They either don’t believe her or think they know better than she does and the result is typically failure.

Let’s set our players up for success  by equipping them with the tools they need in order to receive criticism in the best possible way.

If you liked this post, check out 8 Ways To Critique Without Crushing Your Team’s Spirit.


Posted by on March 7, 2012 in Leadership, Mistakes

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Why I Love When My Team Makes Mistakes


You will become clever through your mistakes.—German proverb

I’m old enough to have accumulated a long list of mistakes.  Small ones like locking my key in the car to big ones.  I’d like to tell you a little story of a big one I made during my freshman year of college.

Dawn’s doozy of a mistake

I went to a big time school to play volleyball.  I walked on and earned a full scholarship by the second semester of my freshman year.  We were pretty good, nationally ranked, so I wasn’t seeing much playing time early on.  I tell you this to help you understand why I thought I’d be able to get away with my doozy.

We were all excited to play another big time team on our schedule.  On the bus, as we were driving to play this game (against the team that would ultimately win the national championship that season), I made a realization.  A gut-wrenching, sweat-inducing, stomach-turning realization.  I didn’t pack my uniforms.

I didn’t tell anyone.  We warmed up in our warmup shirts, so still, no one was the wiser.  When we went out to play, I kept my jacket on…so no one knew.  I thought I could get away with it.

But then it happened.

My coach looked down the bench, as coaches do when the players on the court aren’t doing what they should be doing, and motioned for me to come sit next to him.  I knew what that meant and in my head I’m screaming “No! No! No!” because I thought I’d get away without anyone knowing I’d forgotten my uniform.

As I slinked over to whisper to an assistant coach (I certainly wasn’t telling the head coach!) that I didn’t have my uniform, I realized from her very annoyed look (and the very ticked look I got from the head coach when it was whispered to him) that I was in loads and loads of trouble.

Why mistakes are important

Quite simply, mistakes are important because we learn from them.  As is said in an article I found over at Psychology Today, What’s Your Favorite Mistake, big mistakes that leave “you feeling hot-faced with shame” lead to innovation.  After my doozy of a mistake, I came up with a buddy system for checking teammate’s bags before we left for a trip.  I even created a checklist (because someone was always forgetting socks, hair ties, etc.) of must-haves for every travel bag.

So, while I ran what surely added up to a marathon in sprints that season, I never forgot anything again.  And neither did anyone I played with…nor have any of the players I’ve coached.

The same thing happens with sport skills.  When we challenge our players to take a risk, they sometimes make that big, huge, mistake that is just embarrassing when you come right down to it.  When that embarrassment seeps over them, “like hot acid” according to the PT author, that’s a feeling they don’t want to replicate.  And it’s that feeling that propels them to figure out ways to solve that problem.  That feeling forces our athletes to be more thoughtful, more creative, and more focused on problem solving.

Odd as it may seem, we’ve got to teach our players to embrace failing and be okay with making mistakes.  Only then will they truly feel the impetus to get better.

If you liked this post, I’ll bet you’d enjoy 3 Reasons Why Making Mistakes Is Vital To Your Team’s Success, The Secrets To Greatness Are Within Your Control, and M Is For Mistakes: The Value Of Taking Risks.


Posted by on March 2, 2012 in Mistakes

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3 Ways Our Athletes Can Control The Controllables


During the summer, I work lots of camps, which generally means working with middle and high school aged girls.  As I get to know them, I usually ask them about their teams and how they think they’ll do in their conference.  Inevitably, a girl will say that she’s not looking forward to her season because she doesn’t think her coach likes her.

Then the talk progresses in the same manner, no matter who I’m speaking with:  I tell them it doesn’t matter if the coach likes them or not…the coach wants to win!   Sport isn’t some sort of popularity contest where coaches bench their best players in favor of less talented girls whom they really like…that makes no sense.  I finish my talk with three ways they can “make” their coach give them playing time.

3 areas our players should focus on to be the best they can possibly be

Effort.  I don’t know of a coach alive who doesn’t love a hustler.  I’ve coached (and I’m sure you have too) players who aren’t gifted with obvious natural talent, but who will figuratively run through a wall in every drill during practice.  These players don’t slack off during warmups, but are focused on performing the skill correctly.  When coaches show them an area where they need to improve, they work on it furiously.  They quite literally don’t understand why anyone would walk onto the court/ice/field without giving their full effort for the entire practice.  The beauty of effort is that it is 100% within the control of each athlete…even the coach who “doesn’t like them” is bound to be impressed.

Learning.  One of the more frustrating players to coach is the “I know” player.  This is the player who says “I know” to your correction before the words have even exited your mouth.  When I encounter players like this, I typically have a conversation about how I like to coach…it goes like this.  First, I tell them I need them to look me in the eye when I’m talking to them.  I’ve found that the “I know” player sees correction as bad, rather than helpful.  I want them to see that I’m not angry with them.  Second, I tell them I want to see some sign that they’re listening.  Head nods, questions, whatever.  Finally, I acknowledge that someone else may have taught them a different way to perform a skill and that it probably works…I’m just more comfortable teaching in this manner.  A player who is willing to learn different techniques, especially one that her coach prefers, is more likely to get some PT.

Mistakes.  This is a big one for me.  At my opening meeting of the season, right before preseason starts, I tell my team that they’re going to make mistakes over the course of the season.  Some mistakes will be insignificant, some of them will happen on game point and they’ll be crushed.  And I tell them that I’m alright with that.  I don’t want my team playing scared…afraid to make a mistake.  I want my teams to be brave players, willing to risk disappointment (and maybe even embarrassment) on the road to success.  If we make space for our players to have to take risks and make mistakes in practice, they’ll be more ready to do it during games.  They’ll learn how to manage their emotions and their breathing.  Most importantly, though, they’ll know that both you and their teammates respect them for taking the risk.

A lot about teams and sports are out of the player’s control, but these three things (effort, learning, and mistakes) are squarely within their control.   If you’d like to read more about this, check out Coach Lok’s series called Creating Confident and Coachable Players.


Posted by on February 22, 2012 in Coaching strategy, Mistakes

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Why Weakness Unlocks The Strength Within Teams


If you’ve got fifteen minutes, I’d highly suggest you listen to Caroline Casey’s TEDtalk, Looking Past Limits.  Not only is that an intriguing topic for those of us in the coaching field, Casey is also a fabulous storyteller.

A quick rundown of her story: She was legally blind since birth, though her parents never told her, but rather let her toughen up through battling past road blocks.  She excelled in life, eventually achieving a high profile job where her coworkers never knew her secret.  But that’s not the heart of the story, it’s what happens when she couldn’t hide her blindness anymore.

And that’s where my interest in her story begins…because I believe it can help us with our teams.  It’s a story of belief and vision.  We’ve got to believe in ourselves and combine that belief with a vision that is bigger than us.  Ignoring the obvious irony of a blind person talking about vision, let’s look at how vision is sometimes restricted and how we can free it up…and watch our teams soar!

Teams with lack of vision…

a)      Have players and coaches who are afraid to ask for help.  (Everyone is afraid to admit they’re not perfect…isn’t it exhausting pretending to be perfect?)

b)      Have team members who are afraid to be themselves because they don’t believe in who they truly are. (Isn’t putting on an act tiring?)

c)      Have coaches and players who don’t understand that there is freedom in being true to yourself.

Vision is bigger than us…bigger than anything we can accomplish by ourselves.  Through the power of team, we can release the vision that is waiting within our programs.

Teams with vision…

a)      Have players and coaches who understand their limitations and realize their teammates are there to help them achieve goals. (Everyone knows their role and appreciates what others bring to the table.)

b)      Have team members who acknowledge their strengths and weaknesses, they are totally comfortable with who they are in relation to the team. (There’s power in “team”!)

c)      Have coaches and players who understand that there’s freedom in admitting you need help…that it’s okay to admit you can’t do it all alone.

The first title I came up with for this post was, “Why Vision And Belief Will Make Your Team Great”.  I liked that one a lot and think that it would have been good, but this one is closer to the heart of the story.  Once each team member is willing to admit their weaknesses, they’re on their way to becoming a strong and successful team.


Posted by on September 28, 2011 in Mistakes, Team chemistry, TEDtalk

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Why Being Wrong Feels So Right


The battle between right and wrong is constantly being waged between friends, spouses, coworkers, and teammates.  But what happens when both sides believe wholeheartedly that they are right?  And what happens when those folks are on the same team?  Or a coach and a player have dramatically different views of what’s happening on a team?

In a thought-provoking TEDtalk, Kathryn Schulz gives us the lowdown On Being Wrong.  And what is “wrong”, really?  It is anticipating one thing, but something else happens instead.  I’m sure Wylie Coyote thought he was right to chase the Road Runner off a cliff…until he realized he’s run off the cliff.  Until wrongness registers with us, being wrong feels just like being right.

Our players are no different than we are…we always think we’re right, as do they.  So imagine a scenario where a player thinks she should be playing more than the coach does, here’s the progression of her thinking:

  1. Player thinks coach is ignorant.  The coach just doesn’t know their stuff or hasn’t taken the time to study the available information.  Once coach looks more closely at their playing ability, coach will make them a starter.
  2. Player thinks coach is an idiot.  Now the player acknowledges that the coach has the information and has done their homework, unfortunately the coach is just too dimwitted to understand what’s right in front of her eyes.
  3. Player thinks coach is evil.  The player realizes that the coach knows her stuff and has processed all available information and still thinks the player isn’t a starter.  Now the player believes the coach has a personal problem and is just being mean.  The player should be a starter, but the coach is so awful and spiteful that she just won’t let the player get more court time.

This sounds funny, but according to Schulz…it’s also science.  We trust in our feelings of rightness, unfortunately feelings aren’t that reliable.

Here are some other scenarios where right and wrong play themselves out on a team:

  1. A player is making poor choices in their personal lives.  Whether it’s a volatile relationship, an eating disorder, or inappropriate personal behavior, we’ve got to understand the player thinks they’re right.  Our job is to shed light on their situation so that there is a realization that takes place.  We have to help them realize how their behavior is affecting the team, the coaching staff, and their ability to give maximum effort in practice.
  2. Coaches are human too.  Sometimes, there are those rare occasions when the coach is actually wrong about something.  We don’t like to admit it, but that’s exactly what we have to do.  Maybe you were wrong about a game plan for an opponent, admit it and change things up.  Maybe you thought a player would be amazing and she just isn’t.  Or maybe you made a change to your offense that you thought would take your team to greatness.  Whatever it is, if we can squeak out a “maybe I was wrong”, we can model good behavior for our teams.
  3. It’s not as bad as we thought.  We’ve all got a team that seems to have our number.  And like it or not, our teams build things up in their heads (they’re so good, we’ve never beaten them, they always beat us, that one girl is amazing) about what will happen in competition.  But sometimes they’re wrong about not being able to step up…sometimes we win those games against teams that “should” beat us.  This is the only time when being wrong is a good thing!

Essentially, we all think we’re right…until we realize that we’re wrong.  Hopefully this information will help us navigate the distance between right and wrong more intentionally.


Posted by on September 19, 2011 in Mistakes, Team chemistry, TEDtalk

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3 Actions You Can Take Right Now To Make Your Team Excellent


We are what we repeatedly do.  Excellence, then, is not an act, but a habit. –Aristotle

I want my athletes to get as good as they can possibly be while they’re with me…and I’m sure I’m not the only coach who feels that way.  So when I stumbled upon an article called, The Mundanity of Excellence by Daniel Chambliss, I knew that I wanted to bring it to you guys.  It’s a study on swimmers, but I think it can not only be applied to team sports, but to us coaches, folks in the business world…anyone who wants to be better!  The author defines excellence as the consistent superiority of performance…I think that’s a goal we can all get behind!  So let’s check out how to be excellent.

Here’s what our athletes need to do in order to be excellent

  • Make qualitative improvements. So what does that mean?  In the article, the author talks about how excellence doesn’t come solely from making quantitative adjustments…by just doing more of an activity.  It comes from making targeted adjustments within that activity, much like I talked about in The Secrets To Greatness Are Within Your Control.  It would be silly for us to tell our athletes that they just need to pass more and more to get better…if they’re passing the ball behind their heads!  Yes, they’ve got to do more, but that “more” should be in the context of making adjustments as necessary.  Doing more of the correct thing will yield great results.  Other examples of qualitative improvements could be eating healthier, trying harder in the weight room, or practicing with more intensity.
  • Practice excellence with the little things. As a swimmer quoted in the article says, “people don’t know how ordinary success is.”  Excellence seems to be the meeting together of a bunch of small things that, when done well and with consistency, create a superb athlete.  Those things could be going to the trainer, taking warmup seriously, focusing in on the minor angle changes that need to be made to take a pass from really good to perfect.  Doing those things daily will put your athletes on the road to excellence.  As the author says, “winning is nothing more than the synthesis of a countless number of little things.”
  • Find motivation every day. Athletes on the road to excellence find the everyday things (going to practice, warmup drills, etc.) fun, rewarding, and challenging…they’re able to make them into challenges.  The author tells a story of a swimmer who was fiercely competitive, who made everything into a race: who could get dressed the fastest, who could get to the pool the fastest, who could finish their warmups the fastest…he just loved to compete.  This desire to win in practice helped him to develop a habit of winning and made competition ordinary.  Therefore, the big swim meet really was just another meet, because he was so used to competing every day.  Because there was no significant change in his approach to practices versus meets and his training mirrored competition…he became excellent.

I hope that we’re all able to get our teams fired up about this concept…that being good isn’t reserved for some secret society of athletes.  But for those who are willing to consistently and attentively work at it.


Posted by on February 28, 2011 in Coaching philosophy, Mistakes, Practice

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