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.