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Celebrating Mistakes

In youth sports, the approach to the idea of making mistakes is a big deal. The way that a coach views mistakes is one of the great differentiating factors between coaches. Some view mistakes as something to eliminate; others view mistakes as part of the learning process, and an essential step, especially for young players. A coaches viewpoint on mistakes informs his or her coaching style, and influences his or her communication with the players.

I believe that mistakes are a natural and essential part of learning.

Bruner's Law states that we want learners to experience success and failure as information, not as rewards and punishments.

When working with youth, I often ask the question, "How many people made a mistake?"

The first time I ask it, without fail, there are only one or two kids who are honest and/or brave enough to acknowledge that they made a mistake.

So we begin the conversation, and introduce the idea of The Process.

If we are not making mistakes, are we challenging ourselves? Or are we staying in our comfort zone? Are we getting better? Or are we being safe, and staying the same? Are we doing what we are already good at? Or are we trying and learning something new?

Mistakes are information. Information about what works and what doesn't. If players are not encouraged to try new things, and make some mistakes along the way, how will they ever be able to gather this information?

Unfortunately, I have seen the answer. You've probably seen it too. Most of us have observed those well-meaning coaches, parents and supporters who are constantly giving directions and telling players what they should do. Often this happens during competition, in the form of a running dialogue or barked commands, with more than one person shouting 'encouragement' at the same child.

Like I said, well-intentioned, but probably not as helpful as they think.

Kids learn to make decisions by making decisions.

Let's repeat that, so we can really think about it.

Kids learn to make decisions by making decisions. By gathering information and processing that information. Through the process of experience and reflection. Not by being given or following directions.

This is about giving up control. Working with, instead of Telling to.

The essence of training is to allow error without consequence.

As a coach, I strive to create an environment in which mistakes are encouraged and supported as an important part of learning. They are not punished, or criticized, or judged.

I try to give feedback instead of judgement. If a coach describes what he or she noticed, she is inviting a conversation with the player and/or the group. This is an opportunity to talk about what happened, and to ask questions about what went well and what could be done differently. So often I find that a player has the right idea, and is showing great courage in the attempt. Both of those positive things will be lost if the player feels criticized.

After working with a group of players for a couple of sessions, my question about who made a mistake always comes to be answered with great enthusiasm. Players are excited to raise their hands, because they now have a more positive view of mistakes, and an understanding that improvements are happening in those moments. Making mistakes means that you are getting better.

The Process of learning, growing and improving is always a good thing, and should be celebrated!

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