How Players Can Bounce Back After Mistakes

How Players Can Bounce Back After Mistakes

By Lisa Cohn and Patrick Cohn, Ph.D.  posted Aug 2009

Kids like to succeed in football and other sports. It’s natural. For many young athletes, that means they more likely of losing composure and becoming frustrated when don’t play well or make mistakes.

Recovering mentally after making mistakes is a challenge for football and other players, especially if they’re hard on themselves or have high expectations.

Here’s how one parent describes this challenge:

“My son is 10 years old and plays football. He has a tendency to cry and take his head out of the game if he makes a mistake, such as fumbling the football. He has these ?melt downs’ on the field.  At times it seems to get better and then all of a sudden he slips into a ?pity party’ and it’s not pretty.  He starts the tears, hangs his head, takes his head out of the game and plays badly.”

All young athletes make mistakes or face adversity in some form. Some athletes instinctively bounce back quickly; others, like this young athlete, let the mistakes ruin their confidence and fun in football.

For young athletes, their parents and coaches, there’s often no obvious path to “bouncing back” or recovering from mistakes.

First of all, it’s important for both you and your football players to realize there’s a positive side to failing, facing adversity, or making mistakes. Defeat can sometimes motivate athletes to try harder, to look at what they’re doing, and think about what needs improving.

If kids win all the time, they’re less likely to evaluate themselves. Adversity gives kids the opportunity to make a comeback–with more knowledge about their training, strategy and mental game.

In addition to understanding the value of making mistakes, players need to learn to make two mental changes that will help them deal with them.

First, they need to be more accepting of the fact that they will make some mistakes and understand this is part of playing football, and a part of being human. They also need to learn how to process the mistake so they don’t dwell on it, lose confidence, and/or become frustrated.

To do this, kids need to let go of the need or desire to have a perfect performance. Even if they let go of their desire to play perfectly, they can still perform well, contribute to their team, and win the game!

To process mistakes, young athletes need to understand and evaluate their high expectations. These are the demands they place on themselves about their performance. Expectations?such as not missing any blocks–can make kids frustrated and upset and cause them to dwell on their mistakes. This is especially true if they fail to meet their high expectations.

Kids need to stop dwelling on their mistakes and stop telling themselves how awful it was to make the mistakes. They need to let go of the past (the mistakes) and focus on the present.

Coaches and parents can also help players bounce back and turn a loss or failure into a positive:

  • Help players cool down after a game, especially a loss. Help them think about something other than their negative feelings. Complement them about what they did well.
  • Invite players to think about what they did well during their performance. Did they make an interception, or work hard at being team players?
  • Be sure to praise your players for what they did well, rather than focusing on the negatives.
  • Help kids separate who they are from how they perform in a game or competition. You don’t want them to link their self-esteem to their sports performance!
  • Before a game, tell your football players to give themselves three “out of jail” cards. This way, they can use the “cards” when they make mistakes and move on more easily.

Finally, players need to ask themselves. “How can I use this experience to become a better player?” Once they begin thinking about how they can turn losses into gains, they’re well on their way to bouncing back from mistakes or failure.

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