In Coaching: Good/Bad/Unfair

One of the biggest coaching mistakes I see, from college all the way down through junior sports, is how the coach responds to an athlete’s mistakes. Coaches who get angry and frustrated with the athlete for messing up and immediately bench them, communicate a very powerful, performance-disrupting message: “You screw up again and you will not play!” Frequently what goes with this message is the coach’s ire, ignoring the offending player rather than using their mistake as a teaching moment and helping them understand not just what they did that was wrong, but what they need to do differently next time.

The problem with having a quick “trigger finger” and no tolerance for mistakes as a coach is that you will inadvertently teach all your athletes to be afraid of messing up. On the surface, you might think this is a good thing, because obviously you want your players executing correctly and playing to their potential. However, what happens instead, when you immediately bench someone the minute the screw up is the exact opposite!

The athlete will then over-focus on their mistake and worry about making more of them. Instead of getting out there and focusing on the game’s action and just reacting, they will be focusing on their thoughts of “what if I screw up again? I’ll get benched!” Athletes will NEVER perform to their potential when they are thinking while they perform. Thinking distracts you from the task at hand, makes you nervous and tight, and slows your reaction time and foot speed down. Plus, athletes who are afraid of messing up will ALWAYS perform mechanically and tentatively.

Instead, you want to help your athletes understand that you can only play your best when you are NOT afraid of failing and messing up. You do this by how you handle their mistakes and failures. If you need to bench a player, do so without anger, (no athlete messes up on purpose) and clearly communicate to that player what they need to do differently next time. And then give that player more opportunities to learn


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