Category Archives: Mistakes

3 Reasons Why Making Mistakes Is Vital To Your Team’s Success

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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?

When To Bench An Athlete

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“The bench screams.” –Ron Wilson, former head coach, Toronto Maple Leafs

My general philosophy in life is to say what you mean and mean what you say.  But how long is too long to keep saying the same thing to a player?  You’ve told her for an entire season that she’s got to square up to target or keep her elbow high…whatever the correction, she’s just not getting it.  And if she is getting it, she surely isn’t making the changes that you’d like to see.  So when your throat is sore from yelling and your eyes tired from rolling…maybe it’s time to let the bench do the talking.

3 reasons to bench a player…short term

  • Give them a breather: Maybe it’s a freshman who’s freaking out at her first conference match or a senior who’s emotional during senior night, sometimes a player just needs to take a deep breath and refocus.  It may only take a couple of points for her to calm down and come back to herself.
  • Get a spark from your reserves: If your team is stuck in a skill and/or energy rut, a reserve player can be just the ticket!  You’ll probably go back to your original lineup, but it’s nice to know that you can count on your entire team to contribute to your success.
  • Light a fire under them: Hopefully after you’ve taken that starter out to get a spark from the bench, they begin to realize that they need to step their game up.  The ideal reaction would be for that player to come back onto the court and be an absolute monster out there.  She should want to erase any sort of doubt you may have about her ability to positively contribute to the team.

3 reasons to bench a player…long term

  • Lack of effort: She’s just going through the motions in practices and games.  If your team has always prided itself on having a “whatever it takes” attitude to their play, lack of effort is a slap in the face to you, as their coach, as well as their teammates who expect their effort level to be matched.  A player can only control their skill level and playing time to a certain degree, but effort is completely within their control.  Lack of effort is a choice…and a bad one, in my opinion.
  • Not continuing to get better, getting passed up: During preseason, you can always tell the folks who worked their tails off in the off-season.  Typically because they’re in such good shape, their skill level is higher at the beginning of the season.  Then slowly, but surely, the rest of the team catches up and eventually blows right by them.  As coaches, we want to reward the player that worked hard when no one was looking, so we pull her aside and let her know our concerns…and nothing.  She’s gotten passed up and it’s time to sit her down.
  • Your starters are awful: There’s a point in the season where it’s time to look to the future.  Your team’s shot at winning the conference are long gone and you’ve got a bench full of players who haven’t played all season.  So why not give them a shot?  If you’re out of contention, that means the starters haven’t been getting it done anyway, so how much worse could your reserves do?  Bench the starters and start the bench…they may not be as skilled, but I’ll bet their effort level will be crazy high.

So there you are…use your bench as a motivating tool and your team may be better off for it.

Creating Brave Players

“Fear is the reason today is like yesterday.”—Leadership Freak

That quotation sucker punched me!  Our goal as coaches is to create an atmosphere where our athletes feel comfortable taking risks and are brave in the face of fear.  Those who aren’t involved in athletics may scoff, but the fear is real when the bases are loaded and coach doesn’t have another pitcher warming up.  The fear is real when it’s game point and the server is walking back to the endline in volleyball.  And the fear is real when the fourth runner in a relay receives the baton at the same time as an opponent.

Here are three things we can do right now to crush fear on our teams:

  1. Stop saying crunch time is the same as the beginning of a competition. One of the reasons we believe certain players are “clutch” is that they execute late in the game, in pressure filled situations.  Yet we, as coaches, continue to say things like: the scoreboard doesn’t matter.  Yet…it does! Our players are watching time tick away and their heartrates are increasing.  Our players are watching the opponent create a bigger and bigger gap in the score…and it’s starting to feel like the game is getting away from them.  I think it’s better to acknowledge that pressure and not be afraid of it, but welcome it and give your athletes tools to handle what the scoreboard is saying to them.
  2. Celebrate effort. Each day we have an opportunity to fill our athlete’s reserves with success.  I know Yoda says, “do or do not, there is no try”, but I believe in applauding the process, not necessarily the result.  So if a player hustles to close a block or dig a ball—even if they aren’t successful in their attempt—I’m going to get fired up about the effort.  It’s risky to go all out (what if they fail?), so we need to cheer those players who are willing to flop…because they believe they’ll eventually succeed.
  3. Be intentional about making our yesterdays. Today is tomorrow’s yesterday.  What are you going to do today to put your athletes in a position to draw on their bravery reserves?  Decide what your focus of the day/week/month is going to be and make it happen!  If your focus is tangible (we need to convert more turnovers into points), then devote the majority of practice time to it.  If your focus is intangible (your team needs to be teamier), then design drills that bring that skill to the forefront.

I can’t think of a sport that doesn’t require its athletes to be willing to take risks. Those risks could be failing in front of their friends and family, it could be letting their teammates down…but it could also be succeeding when they weren’t entirely confident they would.  There’s a saying that says, “fortune favors the brave”.  Sure, our athletes could fail, but they certainly won’t succeed if they’re unwilling to be brave and take a risk.

Coach Dawn Writes is back writing helpful articles.  Did you know that you could get the articles emailed directly to your inbox?  Well, it’s free and easy.  Just click here and you’re all set!

Why I Love When My Team Makes Mistakes

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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.

Advice For New Coaches

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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.

Whoops!

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.

The Power Of Mistakes

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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.

How To Cure A Slump Of Confidence

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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.

How Sports Teach Creativity

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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.

How To Handle Criticism Constructively

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

Ouch.

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.

Why I Love When My Team Makes Mistakes

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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.