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A Positive Way to Look at Mistakes

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Mistakes happen all the time in sports and yet we work diligently to eliminate making them at all.

Maybe the key is to get a new attitude toward mistakes, check out how.

Simply put, mistakes are critical to learning. Think about a time when you screwed up royally, I’ll bet if it happened a long time ago it’s still with you today. I’ll also bet you haven’t made that same mistake again or at least not often. My own personal mistake experience through life has taught me that the bigger the mistake, the bigger the lesson.

Years ago when I was coaching a Pro League all-star team against one of our Olympic Teams getting ready to head off to the Olympic Games, I made a HUGE coaching mistake. It happened a long time ago and it’s as clear to me now as if it happened yesterday. It was the top of the 1st inning and we had a runner on 2nd. The batter hits a grounder into short right field and I hold the runner up at 3rd. On any other day, against almost any other pitcher, that would have been the right thing to do – play for a big inning. But, this wasn’t any other day, against any other team and this wasn’t just any other pitcher. It was against Cat Osterman who at the time, was throwing the best she’d ever thrown. To make things worse, not only did I hold up the runner up at 3rd, but the USA rightfielder bobbled the play – thinking I was going to send the runner so she rushed – and our runner could have walked home. I say “could have” because I held her up! The crowd booed me because even they knew it was a bone-head move.

My mistake wasn’t in guessing that Leah O’Brien Amico was going to bobble the ball, I had no way of knowing that. My mistake was in not realizing that against the best team in the world with their best pitcher on the mound, that we were going to be lucky to score 1 run, so therefore I had to do everything possible to make sure we did. And by holding up my runner at 3rd, I wasn’t using the best strategy for that game against that team. Lesson learned!!

Karma threw in a bonus lesson for me that day as well. I also learned that even the best outfielders in the world have a very difficult time fielding a ball on the ground and making an accurate throw to home plate. Following that blunder I always sent my runners whenever the ball was on the ground to an outfielder (unless they were playing a deep infield position) – and always scored as a result. So thanks Leah, I appreciate the lesson!

So, while painful, those 2 lessons were learned loud and clear!

In working with tons of female players of all ages and skill levels, the one thing they all have in common is their fear of making mistakes. Girls hate to make mistakes, to the point that they limit their efforts to prevent them. Boys are less careful in their efforts and simply laugh at themselves and go again following a mistake. But to girls, mistakes mean they’ve let you down so they give a careful effort on the next play.

While I’m not advocating we create a culture of mistake-makers, I am suggesting we take a different look at the role mistakes play in the growth and development of our players. What if, instead of calling them mistakes, or even missed-takes, we called them Learning Opps, short for opportunity? Sounds better doesn’t it? And technically, that’s what mistakes are – they are chances for us to learn a great lesson and apply the information to our next effort so that we can make it better. In my case, I learned 2 lessons at once.

So here are some common lessons we can learn from mistakes that happen during games:

  • This batter loves inside, so go outside next time
  • This pitcher is the best in the world so take BIG chances whenever you get them
  • Outfielders have a difficult time making accurate throws to homeplate after fielding balls on the ground – so run on them
  • Pitching a change up to a batter with a slow swing isn’t too smart – throw her fast next time
  • Instead of pitching the ball with my shoulder twist my fingers more at release
  • This pitcher loves throwing high, so next pitch make her keep it below my hands
  • This umpire struggles to see low pitches so I’ve got to throw a bit higher instead of a lot higher
  • Before the next pitch – check the speed of the runners

Simply trying harder after a mistake is far too vague for your brain to do anything with that information. And, tearing yourself apart for being an idiot and not realizing the situation, or the play – won’t help either. Eliminate the emotion from the play and figure out:

  1. What you did right – repeat it
  2. What you need to fix – fix it

It’s very common for your players to be more aggressive in practice and suddenly play careful in games. This is because players are trying not to make mistakes during games and as a result they hold back their effort. While it’s really meant as a compliment to you the coach, (because the players are trying to not make mistakes for you), the result is a lack of performance due to their carefulness. You’ll see this a lot with hitting – players will hit great during practice and then can’t hit during games. Our eClinic on this exact topic –How to Hit in Games Like You Do in Practice – will give you lots of ways to help your players work through this very common problem.

The next time your players make a mistake, instead of getting mad and losing your mind, see it as a Learning Opp, which means you’ve got to find the lesson and help your player learn from it. The key is that we try to limit the number of times it takes us to learn. For more help with overall coaching tactics and techniques, check out our Coaching Certification program.

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