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How To Be Resilient When Making Mistakes

Updated: Nov 24, 2023

"Mistakes are part of the game.

It’s how well you recover from them, that’s the mark of a great player."

- Alice Cooper


In the past, I've had some great conversations with teams about making mistakes.  Themes that have emerged, there are two kinds of mistakes that are made in competition, calculated risks and brain fart moments.


1.  Calculated Risks are high risk or high reward. High risk / high reward moments may seem random, in fact they are calculated because it involves having knowledge and experience, practice, and learning to be mentally resilient. When athletes feel prepared, they tend to be more willing to take chances in competitive moments because they understand the risk and are confident with their decisions.

Tips for Recognizing and Handling High-Risk Situations:

a. Risk Assessment:

  • Athletes and coaches should collaboratively assess risks involved in specific situations.

  • Understanding the potential consequences allows for better preparation and decision-making.

b. Simulation Training:

  • Simulating high-risk scenarios in training (on your own) and practices (team training) helps athletes become accustomed to pressure situations.

  • Practicing decision-making under stress contributes to better performance in actual competitions.

c. Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques:

  • Incorporating mindfulness and relaxation techniques can help athletes stay calm in high-pressure situations. Identify what you need before competition to clear your mind for competition; know what helps you to focus and refocus in the heat of the moment; and know what you need to do after competition to wind down and reflect.

  • Techniques such as deep breathing and/or visualization can be useful for managing stress; to help you stay focused on the task at hand; and to be mindful of the present moment.

How to Prepare for High-Reward in Competitions:

a. Goal Setting:

  • Setting clear, realistic, and challenging goals for high risk / high reward moments in competitions helps to maintain motivation.

  • Breaking down larger goals into smaller, achievable tasks can make the preparation process more manageable.

b. Positive Visualization:

  • Athletes can use positive visualization techniques to mentally rehearse success in high risk / high reward situations.

  • Visualizing the entire competition, including potential challenges and successful outcomes, can enhance mental preparedness.

c. Adaptability Training:

  • High risk / high reward situations often require adaptability. Training that incorporates unexpected challenges can enhance an athlete's ability to adapt on the fly.

d. Team Dynamics:

  • For team sports, fostering strong team cohesion and communication is vital.

  • Ensuring that each team member understands their role and the collective goal contributes to success in high-stakes competitions.


2. Brain farts are those random mistakes like missing a pass because you weren’t paying attention or forcing a bad pass because you panicked under pressure..  In these moments, athletes often times react negatively to these types of mistakes.

Managing Mistakes:

a. Resilience:

  • Athletes need to develop mental resilience to bounce back from mistakes quickly, e.g., having a goldfish mentality (short term memory).

  • Understanding that mistakes are a part of the learning process can help in maintaining a positive and purposeful mindset.

b. Positive and Purposeful Self-Talk:

  • Encouraging positive and purposeful self-talk helps athletes reframe mistakes as opportunities for growth.

  • Focusing on what can be learned from the mistake rather than dwelling on the error is essential.

c. Process-Oriented Focus:

  • Shifting the focus from outcome to process can be beneficial. Concentrating on the task at hand rather than the mistake itself helps maintain concentration. When you are present focused you are in the action; when you focus on the mistake, you are stuck in the past; and when you are focused on the outcome you are stuck in the future. Remember, when you are present focused, it's controllable vs when you are focused on the past or future, it's out of your control.

In the end, both types of mistakes are part of the process to improve, to stay focused, to make adjustments, and to be strong! These tips can help you to better manage mistakes, and to be prepare for high risk / high reward moments. And remember, the mental aspect of sports is just as important as the physical. Taking time to prepare both mentally and physically can significantly impact your ability to perform when it matters most.

Quote from an athlete, “If you aren’t making mistakes, you aren’t trying hard enough!”

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