A momentary lapse of concentration cost Holland’s speed skating king, Sven Kramer, a gold medal in the 10,000m at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. But it wasn’t his concentration that failed him. His coach, Gerard Kemkers—momentarily distracted while recording split times—looked up and incorrectly instructed Kramer to cross into the inside lane. Kramer instinctively followed the directions and though he finished first by four seconds, the blunder disqualified him, costing him not only the gold medal, but thousands of dollars in sponsor bonuses.
No matter what level you coach, from youth basketball to the Olympics, one thing is true: when (not if) you make a mistake, it’s out there for everyone to see. So how do you handle it? What do you do when you blow it? How do you respond after you call the wrong play, make the wrong substitution or say the wrong thing?
Coaches who own their mistakes build trust and respect with their athletes. Though we are socialized to think that admitting mistakes makes us look weak, it actually shows our strength. Anyone can point the finger of blame. It takes a person of character to say those three little powerful words: I was wrong.
Coaching is so much more than teaching a sport. You’re teaching your players about life—and they learn more about how to live successfully from watching you handle adversity than at any other time. Use your mistakes as teachable moments.
Admitting your faults gives your athletes permission to do the same. It creates an open atmosphere where they feel more freedom to admit their mistakes because you, as the leader, easily admit yours. In this environment, your athletes play “loose” because they’re not fearful of messing up.
Once you’ve taken responsibility for the error and apologized for it (if necessary), now it’s time to move forward. Replaying it again and again in your mind will not change the situation. Punishing yourself will not reverse time to give you a do over. Although you may not literally forget what happened, choosing to dismiss it from your mind will break its control over you and keep it from holding you back.
The next time you make a mistake, remember that you have the power to choose your response. When you choose to own it, use it and forget it, you show humility, responsibility and perseverance that will keep both you and your team moving forward.