Jul 29

Making Mistakes: Rather than Letting it Define You, Refine Your Skill

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The original article was posted by Greg Bach, SportingKid Live, April 10, 2017. While it focuses on Children and Youth Soccer players, one can easily apply this to any sport involving younger children and adolescent athletes. The article was modified (direct quotes are addressed to soccer players and games, and are unchanged – but I related the information to athletes and competition).

Many sports are littered with young athletes who seem to be ‘handcuffed’ by fear of making mistakes. The enjoyment of the game (competition) and the ability to learn, grow, and develop is often compromised.

…We tell our kids that “mistakes don’t define you, rather they should refine you,” says Jordan Burt, a professional soccer player for the Colorado Springs Switchbacks and Co-founder of Pro Performance. Ultimately, if you are not making mistakes you’re not stretching yourself, and that has to change. So many kids struggle with it because they are so scared of making mistakes, but in reality, these kids should be making tons of mistakes because that’s ultimately the only way you are going to grow….

…That can happen if coaches take a step back and recognize how important mistakes are in a player’s journey to improvement. Making it happen requires stressing during practices that mistakes are a part of the learning process and the way an athlete responds is what really matters…

Coaches need to change this underlying perspective of mistakes, Burt says. They’re fine as long as you’re trying to learn and grow from them because then you are not going to dwell on them. It is a valuable lesson to teach young athletes when taking a concerted and consistent effort to get the message across, especially since many are accustomed to being yelled at and criticized for committing mistakes…

…It is a tough concept to grasp as a kid because I think so much of what a kid is thinking is: ‘I need to do well to please the coach or I need to do well to please my parents,’ Burt says. So you’ve got to ‘preach’ that mistakes don’t matter – it’s how you respond to them – because in any game (i.e., competition) you’re not going to have time to dwell on mistakes, which is what I tell the kids all the time: Strategize by keeping your mind away from those mistakes, figure out how to get better, and focus on how to make the next play or win the game”…

Failing: A Badge of Honor

Burt, along with professional players James Riley and Luke Vercollone, founded Pro Performance because they love the game of soccer and love to inspire and impact dedicated athletes through mentorship. Burt played college soccer at Butler University and he is quick to point out that his path to the professional ranks was filled with failure and disappointment, but he never allowed it to define him as a player or sabotage his love for the game. Instead, he used it as fuel to work hard and improve himself.

The message he shares with young players he works with:

…“When I introduce myself to kids I tell them about all my failures – it’s almost like a ‘badge of honour’ when you get to this level,” he says. I got ‘cut’ by this coach, I got ‘cut’ by that coach, or whatever it may be. When you tell these kids these stories – and I don’t know of any Pro that doesn’t have a massive failure story – it’s all about how you respond to them”…

Everyone experiences failures, setbacks, and disappointments at various junctures of their life. So, Burt encourages volunteer coaches not to hold back from sharing with their players to help them understand that they happen to everyone.

…Keep sharing these failures because that’s ultimately how you ingrain in them that it’s OK to fail and how you respond to it is what matters, he says. “I think kids respond to that because they realize no matter their career, that it isn’t going to be a straight line to the top.


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