The Funny Thing About Mistakes

Posted: Saturday, May 5th, 2018. Filed under ATHLETeX

We chase it, search for it, and celebrate the moments when it happens. While it is so difficult to accomplish or witness, perfection in sports is an amazing accomplishment. There can be perfect moments, perfect games, or even perfect seasons, but what is ever more common is the amount of mistakes and failures that we see in athletics.

In all my years participating in athletics, coaching, and consulting with programs across the country, there is one common thing that proves true in men’s and women’s athletics: mistakes will happen. What is uncommon is how we think about mistakes and react to them when they occur. The best teams respond to mistakes–or what some call failures–in a much more productive way. The question is how do they manage to do this while avoiding anger, resentment, and arguments between teammates when mistakes arise?

I spend a lot of time in my sessions with teams, regardless of the sport, specifically discussing key aspects of communication and how they interact with each other as teammates. It has become very evident to me that as mistakes happen, many athletes struggle to understand how to respond not only when they make a mistake, but more so when a teammate makes a mistake.

To broach this topic and help athletes support each other through mistakes in competition and practice, I ask them one particular question. Standing in front of the team, I start by stating that no teammates, coaches, or even I will get upset if they honestly answer the question I am about to ask. This usually results in worried facial expressions reading, “Oh man, what is he going to say?!” Then I simply ask the athletes to please raise your hand if you go into a game, practice, or workout and try to actively make a mistake. As blank stares fill the room, I restate the question and clarify that yes, they did hear me correctly. As I’ve looked around the room in the hundreds of times I have done this exercise, no athlete has yet to raise their hand. My follow-up question is this: Then why do we treat our teammates and others who make mistakes as if they are trying to do it on purpose?

Think about it. An athlete may turn the ball over, take a penalty, or strike out, and oftentimes their teammates respond with an attitude of “What are they doing? They’re killing us!” Granted, not many athletes want to admit that negativity creeps in and they think this way, and I’m not saying they think this way all the time. However, the change we need to work on is understanding that everyone who comes to work out, practice, and give their best in a game is doing just that–trying their best to be successful and not actively striving to hurt the team’s performance.

The funny thing about mistakes is that we don’t try to actively make them, but they do happen. The biggest question is how do you respond to mistakes and failures? Great teams understand it is more about how you react and choose to bounce back that creates higher levels of success. An elite team culture creates an environment where teammates push each other to be their best, understand that mistakes and failures will happen, and accept them while focusing on being their best in the next moment.

Think about mistakes or failures that have occurred in your life. Did you actively try to make them, or did they happen despite your best efforts to succeed? I am willing to bet that you, too, are not actively trying to make mistakes in your life. But as they happen, how are you bouncing back? Even more, how are you helping those around you respond and push forward through struggles they experience?

Failure is one of the greatest teachers we have in life. When we can accept that, keep moving forward, and encourage others to keep working hard while we support them, we can create trust, clear communication, and understanding that takes everyone to higher levels of success.

This post was written by HUMANeX teammate Andy G.

One response to “The Funny Thing About Mistakes”

  1. Svetlana Sutic says:

    Great post! reminds me of Carol Dweck’s ‘Mindset’ word ‘YET’ We haven’t gotten there yet! It’s about accepting failure as the necessary step to learning to mastery.

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