Thursday, 23 May 2024

I Want You To Embrace Mistakes

For over 40 years, one of the fundamental messages I convey to new teams and summer camp players is this: “I want to see mistakes out here on the court.” It’s not about being perfect; it’s about stepping outside your comfort zone and pushing your limits. When you try new things, mistakes are bound to happen, and that’s okay. I encourage players to embrace these errors as part of the learning process.

Building trust is a crucial aspect of team development, and allowing players to make mistakes is the first step. I assure them that I won’t call out or get upset about their errors unless it’s something I’ve never seen before. It’s been years since I felt the need to highlight a mistake. Trust is the foundation of a strong team, whether it’s in sports or any other field.

Consistency is another key component of building trust. Players need to believe in the learning process and understand that making mistakes is an inevitable part of it. The field of play is like an “exploratorium” where you can push boundaries and try new things.

Contrast this approach with coaches who demand perfection from their players, punishing them for any deviation from it. Focusing on perfection in a team sport is selfish and counterproductive. As author Brene Brown aptly put it in her book, “Daring Greatly,” perfectionism is a hustle—an attempt to earn approval rather than a genuine pursuit of self-improvement.

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The reality is, perfection is simply not achievable in the majority of sports, especially team sports. It’s impossible to play a flawless game of volleyball unless you stay on the bench and avoid any involvement. Instead, we should embrace the fact that errors are not only acceptable but also beneficial for learning.

It’s time for coaches to stop punishing players for the inherent randomness and chaos in sports. Instead, focus on the process and embrace a reality-based outcome where the score takes care of itself. Coaches should pay attention to making effective decisions and refining techniques.

Mistakes are crucial for learning, both in terms of decision-making and technique. When coaches punish players for failing to meet their unrealistic expectations of perfection, they may achieve compliance, but at the cost of inspired behavior and creative solutions. As someone wisely said, “Punishment may secure compliance, but it won’t inspire genuine effort.” Moreover, using fear as a motivator is ineffective and misguided.

Mistakes, and even failures, are stepping stones to success. Crossing a river on a log or stepping stones requires various attempts and approaches. People learn not just from minor slips but also from falling in. Each individual progresses uniquely, making errors along the way, and eventually reaching the other side. Failure and mistakes are not the opposite of success; they are an integral part of the journey.

Coaches shouldn’t demean or punish their athletes. Instead, guide them and help them discover the information they need to know. Demanding excellence is acceptable, but demanding perfection sets players up for failure. Trust in their capabilities and create an environment where they can grow.

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Through trust, you’ll see players who fight to win without panicking because they’re afraid to lose. If punishment were an effective motivator, everyone leaving prison would become exceptional citizens. Remember, your players don’t have to be perfect or “polished” in practice to be prepared for competition.

In closing, I’d like to share the wisdom of the “Serenity Prayer”: “Accept the things you cannot change, change the things you can, and have the wisdom to know the difference.” Embrace mistakes as opportunities for growth and learning, both on and off the court.