Mistakes are part of every athlete’s experience. It’s the root of how they learn, improve, and get better.
However, they can be super tough to navigate! Especially because these mistakes are often happening on a large scale in front of people! Failing publicly (over and over) isn’t something adults typically experience, yet it’s part of an athlete’s every day life.
And what separates average athletes from the confident, elite ones is the ability to come back from these mistakes quickly!
The faster an athlete can move on, the more likely she’ll play better. The best athletes respond to mistakes, rather than react and let them spiral out of control.
Here are some strategies that athletes can be using, and how you can help as well!
#1: Utilize the breath
Athletes need to access the simplest tool they have with them always – their breath! The breath regulates the nervous system by activating the parasympathetic nervous system. When athletes are shallow breathing, their body goes into the “fight or flight” mode and it’s difficult for them to focus. This is where they often are after a mistake, so they then to make more and more mistakes!
An intentional deep breath in through the nose and out through the mouth is one of the most powerful tools your athlete can use.
It’s what we teach athletes to do in ECP. Their mindset routine has daily, intentional breath incorporated so that they have it with them when the mistakes happen. It’s key that this is trained before the mistake!
#2: Have a Recovery Method
The best athletes have some intentional way to recover after a mistake. It’s a routine or ritual that they can fall back on to help them.
It’s important that athletes have practiced their recovery method before the mistake happens! Calling on it when the tough time happens is too late. Like many mental skills, this needs to be front-loaded.
#3: Visualize a Response to Mistakes
The best athletes are preparing for their success ahead of time by being realistic about what potentially can get in the way.
Most athletes have 1-2 common situations they find themselves in often. A mistake they repeat or a mistake they’re worried about making.
Instead of avoiding it, identify what it is and come up with a plan on how to get through it. Then, visualize that plan!
This will prepare the athlete ahead of time for the moment and increase the chances she’ll get through the mistake faster.
#4 (For Parents): Normalize Mistakes
Be aware of your response, reaction, and language around mistakes and failures.
Ensure that your body language after she makes a mistake is positive.
When you’re talking to her post-game, don’t point out all the mistakes she’s made. Many times, athletes are fearful of mistakes because they don’t want to let their parents down.
Make sure she knows you love her regardless of what she does out there.
Ask questions when she’s talking about her mistakes so that it moves from criticizing to critiquing “what did you learn” or “what could you do differently?”
#5 (For Parents): Focus on the Process Over the Outcome
This goes for any outcome (positive or negative!) Focus on the process that lead to it.
Because…athletes can do everything “right” and still not get a great result.
Athletes can do everything “wrong” and get a great result every once in a while.
What’s most important long-term is that they are focusing on the process that will lead them to the result they want. Take the focus off the result and back to the process.
This includes effort, focus, feedback, and also the technical parts of the game that you know she’s working on (highlight those!), and help her reflect on her own performance when she’s not getting the results she wants
Remember, mistakes are part of your athlete’s experience. In fact, they are normal and expected. How she moves from them and becomes stronger after is a combination of your support and language around mistakes and providing her with the tools she needs for recovery!
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