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Building stronger, mentally tougher athletes from failures, mistakes and setbacks. By Dr. Alan Goldberg

Let's start with a few basic understandings before I try to sell you on the virtues of failing. A "good" coach sells two things to his/her athletes:

The pursuit of excellence
The value of hard work

Both of these "products" have a built in intolerance for mediocrity. Half-hearted efforts and poor results do not warm the hearts of any coaches that I know. It is therefore a coach's job to regularly push an athlete out of his comfort zone until they achieve a certain level of conditioning and skill execution. Having said this let me make one very important point. How you deal with your athlete's failures to achieve a desired level of performance, how you handle their mistakes and failures will dramatically affect their overall motivation, ability to successfully handle pressure and how well they'll concentrate during competition.

Far too many coaches mishandle their athletes and teams failures and in doing so inadvertently create more performance problems.

As I've mentioned throughout this newsletter, failure is nothing more than a very important building block of success. Your athletes have to fail enough times in order to achieve a certain level of proficiency in the sport. Failure provides an athlete with the valuable feedback of what not to do next time in order to ultimately get it right. Because of this I feel that it is critical that you approach your athletes' failures intelligently. What do I mean by "intelligently?"

The wrong or less intelligent way for you to deal with your team's losses and mistakes is to get "emotionally hijacked" by them. That is, when your team loses you "lose it." You yell, scream, threaten and punish the offending parties. Singling out a player in from of his teammates and humiliating him for "letting the team" down is destructive in the long run. Now I'm not saying that you should ignore these mistakes and "ho hum" your team's sub-par play. I'm not suggesting that you should kindly accept such mediocrity. What I am saying is when you get angry and how you work on their failures is critical.

Harping on mistakes and getting overtly angry during games will ultimately backfire in your face. Jumping on your athletes during a time out or half time will most often distract them from the important task at hand and make them too uptight to play well. Why? An athlete has an important mental job to do during competition in order to perform well. They must keep their head in the "now" of the performance. Staying in the "now", focusing on one play at a time will increase their chances of playing to their physical potential.

Furthermore, it is only in the "now" that they will be able to successfully execute the way that you've coached them. When an athlete screws up, that mistake is in the "past." At this point his job is to leave the mistake behind him and quickly return his focus to the "now" of the competition. Athletes who can't mentally let go of their mistakes will always end up making more of them.

So what should you do when your team is playing like garbage or one of your athletes is messing up left and right? The constructive way of dealing with this situation is to first clearly tell them what they are doing wrong and then spell out exactly what you need them to do in order to get it right. After that you want to immediately get them refocused back on the game. If you want them to mentally let go of their mistake during the game then you have to let go of it too.

Remember, you can dwell on the screw-ups all you want the next day in practice.

Athletes always play their best when they have absolutely nothing to lose and are oblivious to the possibility of making mistakes. Similarly, an athlete or team will play their worst when they are concentrating on how much is at
stake and the "what if's" of losing or otherwise screwing up. Be aware that what you say to your athletes before and during the game directly and immediately affects how much of their focus gets caught up in the outcome.

The more relaxed attitude you can have on the bench towards mistakes, the easier it will be for your athletes to leave them behind and keep their minds in the flow of the game.

Too many athletes worry about getting benched whenever they make a mistake. Perhaps you as their coach have a quick "trigger finger" and pull kids out of the game immediately following a screw-up. If that's your style, fine.
However, what you must do is prepare your athletes ahead of time for this. Let them know this is what you'll do and that when you send them back in the competition you want their heads back in the game and NOT on the mistake or whether they are going to get yanked again. The last thing you want your athletes doing in a competitive situation is worrying about when the "hook" is coming.

Dr. Alan Goldberg



Dr. Goldberg's book, Sports Slump Busting is filled with information that can help you train mentally tougher athletes. Learn how to spot and avoid the mental traps that coaches, athletes and teams regularly fall into. Learn how to teach your kids to quickly let go of their mistakes and better handle pressure. Dr. G's books and tapes can help you raise the level of your coaching and give you the competitive advantage.

Competitive Advantage


Dear readers, Iíd like to underline that I DONíT HAVE ANY COMMERCIAL INTEREST IN SUGGESTING THIS. Itís only a way to thank Dr. Goldberg for his kindness in letting me reprint his articles to spread the knowledge.

Coach Gianni

Posted on 26 Oct 2006 by coachgianni
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