Do you want to really get your team’s attention? Start a pre-game speech with “I made a mistake.”
Players don’t hear those words very often from their coach. When they do, it’s usually followed by “I thought you were better than you are.” What’s wrong with telling your players you were wrong, you made a mistake, screwed things up, and in the end, let them down?
Too many coaches, in my opinion, are too quick to blame players without first looking at the coaching job they did or are doing. They are what I like to call the “We won, you lost” coach, quick to take credit for a win and assign blame to the players for a loss.
We tell our players all the time that it’s okay to make mistakes. We cite the over-used quote about it’s how you react that’s most important. But rarely do coaches admit they were just plain wrong. If we don’t recognize when we make mistakes, we aren’t practicing what we preach. Not only are we not showing our players that it’s okay to make mistakes, we aren’t exhibiting the proper way to react.
Here’s what happened. Have you ever had one of those days when your team is not playing as well as you know they can? Of course you have. I had one recently. It’s was a combination of a hot day, a short field, a perceived inferior opponent with a very good striker, and me expecting my players to do things I haven’t shown them how to do yet. It conspired to produce a 2-2 draw.
My wife likes to (correctly) point out that I “don’t mask my impatience well.” In a game that would produce eight offside calls against us, a hit post and two shots over the crossbar ganged up on me. All my patience was gone by the 12th minute. I focused on all the negative things we were doing, all the mistakes we were making and completely ignored the multitude of chances we created and the fact that we scored two late goals to tie it up, the second game this year we came from behind to get a result.
Fortunately, we had a game the next day. I sat everyone down and said, “I made a mistake yesterday. I confused you, gave you no help, and wanted you to magically do things I haven’t shown you yet.” Then I got out my board and drew up what I wanted them to do in the upcoming game. The plan consisted of two words: “Have Fun.”
They did. Nutmegs and backheels were attempted, passes were creative. Scoring chances came easily. Goals, four of them, came quickly. I told the girls after the game that I am going to make mistakes, we all are, and it’s important how we react to them. And, I said, “when I make mistakes, point it out to me. I certainly will point out yours.”
We always say mistakes are an opportunity to learn. That goes for coaches, too. I learned two important lessons from my mistakes. First, don’t be a jackass. Second, sometimes with this particular team, they are better when I spend most of the game sitting in my chair with my mouth shut.