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How to Handle Mistakes

April 19, 2017


For most of his career at Army, Indiana, and Texas Tech, Hall of Fame coach Bobby Knight posted a sign is his team locker room that reminded everyone who passed by that "Victory favors the team that makes the fewest mistakes."


Like many other things that Coach Knight said and taught over the years, this concept has become basketball gospel and is repeated almost daily by coaches around the globe. However, no matter how hard we try, no matter how much we prepare both physically and mentally, we are not going to play or coach a perfect game. It's just not going to happen - there are too many variables involved and not even the best players on the best teams in the country are going to play mistake free.


Unfortunately, when a player makes a mistake it often results in a series of negative consequences. First of all there is the mistake itself. Then there are those consequences that quickly take place because the player is still thinking about his original screw up instead of concentrating on the task at hand. We've all seen it happen at least a dozen times - a player misses a defensive assignment and gives up an easy score, then goes down to the offensive end and turns the ball over, then commits a stupid foul and finally follows it up with another turnover or by forcing a horrible shot.


Or even worse, they make a mistake and then mentally check out for several possessions and don't do anything. You might as well be playing four on five! Against good teams either scenario could easily be the difference between winning and losing.


In order to prevent a mistake "hangover" like the ones mentioned above, it's important that players know and understand the proper way to deal with the mistakes they make. Here are the four steps to correctly handle mistakes:


1. Recognize the mistake

For most players this is the easy step although as hard as it is to believe, some players (or their parents) just don't realize that they are making a mistake. Of course, if that's the case, the next three steps are unnecessary.


2. Own the mistake 

Adopt a "No excuses. No explanations" mindset. Remember it's not the first mistake you've ever made and it's not going to be the last. What's done is done and the quickest way to make a bad situation worse is to make an excuse or to blame someone else.


When that occurs, you have at least two people upset about just what happened and you run the risk of mentally poisoning a teammate. A simple "my bad" will not only demonstrate your accountability but will also help you earn the respect and trust of your teammates.


3. Learn from the mistake

At some point making the same mistake over and over again stops being a mistake and starts becoming a habit. Instead of treating the mistake like a mini failure consider it as a learning tool. Every player makes mistakes but only the great ones learn from them.


4. Leave the mistake behind

This is the hard part for a lot of players at every level of competition. Duke's Coach K is constantly preaching "next play" to his players while Louisville's Rick Pitino reminds his players to "play in the present." Being able to move on from a mistake is a sure sign of mental toughness and players who naturally exhibit this kind of behavior should always be complimented in front of the teammates.


When recovering from a loss, a lot of us tell our players "Don't let the loss on Wednesday cost us the game on Saturday." The same is true for the mistakes we make on the court - don't let one mistake cost us the next several possessions. Handle mistakes correctly and that won't happen.

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