Short version of this post:
Kids are afraid of messing up. Make it OK to mess up. Give them the power to brush it off using a Mistake Ritual. Watch magic happen.
From my experience at U9 and lower, when I watch these kids train I would notice a few things. Like how many would look around to see what the other kids where doing instead of paying attention to what they were doing. How some would half-try at a new move or try to loose themselves in the crowd of players and smile sheepishly when called out. Maybe they would pull up unsure what to do. If you pay close attention to your players as they go through a session you’ll see it too.
While there could be a variety of reasons, but I’d put good money that there’s a very good chance they’re afraid of making a mistake. It makes you look silly. Will someone yell at you? It means you’re not smart enough. It proves you just aren’t good at it.
What your players probably don’t understand is that you have to make mistakes to learn something new. That’s why they call it a…
As a coach, you need to make it OK for your players to make mistakes in practices and in games. In fact, make it a requirement.
There is a small problem with this. Nobody likes making mistakes. When your players make one the negative talk will start in their head. This will self-perpetuate and compound with every additional mistake they make. So you need to give them them a way to mentally reset after making a goof – a Mistake Ritual.
The Positive Coaching Alliance teaches a lot of great things and this is one of my favorites. It is a gesture your players use immediately after they make a mistake and put it behind them. For example, holding up two fingers and making a “flush” gesture to represent flushing the mistakes down the toilet. Another is flicking imaginary sweat off your forehead to represent “no sweat.” Or brushing imaginary dirt off your shoulder to “brush it off.”
Here’s what I did and do for my young girls:
- At our first training session for the team I gave my spiel on how mistakes are normal, required and I hope I see a lot of them (means they’re trying real hard at something new). Also explained the Mistake Ritual and let them vote on which would be the team ritual. After the mortified/embarrassed looks and laughter subsided when I explained the “flush” it version, the team voted on “Brush it off.”
- Before every practice and every game I ask “Are mistakes OK?” and the team says “Yes” loudly in unison. Then I ask “When you make a mistake, what do you do?” The team answers “Brush it off!” and brush their fingers over their shoulders.
- I also remind them that this is not just for themselves, but their teammates as well. If you see someone on your team make a mistake be sure to let them know it’s OK and brush it off.
- When one of my players makes a mistake, they’ll look over at me. I do the ritual for them and they know what it means. If they don’t look at me, I’ll call their name to make eye contact and do the ritual.
My whole reason for doing this is to create a mechanism for the players to quickly put the mistake behind them, reset and get back in the practice or game. Otherwise they are more likely to start dwelling on it and negative thoughts feed on themselves. It will help build their confidence, resilience and, without them realizing it, mental toughness.
So how’s it working?
During our Futsal game last Sunday, a player on the other team took a shot on goal from way out that probably wouldn’t have gone in. One of my girls tried to intercept it, had a bad touch and the result was she practically scored an own goal. I could tell she felt pretty bad about it and she started apologizing. But our keeper looked at her and did our Mistake Ritual – brush it off. Heard another teammate on the field say “brush it off.” I also called to her so she can see me do the same ritual. She stopped getting down on herself immediately and got right back in the game.
I’d say it’s working pretty well.