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Coping with Mistakes: Teaching Tolerance
by Tony DiCicco, May 22nd, 2008 1PM

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By Tony DiCicco

Tolerance is important not only between and among teammates but also for individual players personally. Ideally, this tolerance starts at the top with the coach.

Players make mistakes, some of them physical and some mental. It's the job of a coach to point out those mistakes, to help each player recognize the error and then, more important, provide the tools to correct it. It's also the job of the coach to make it clear that if a player makes a mistake, it's not the end of the world.

It's equally vital to coach players when they've been successful. In fact, the most enlightened coaches spend more time congratulating successes than correcting mistakes.

Over the years I've had players who, when they made a mistake, were clearly much harder on themselves than they would have been on a teammate who'd made the same mistake. These players take themselves down emotionally and tear themselves up mentally. Frankly, I was like that too. But what you have to understand is that if you're a member of a team, you have the responsibility to keep your own performance up.

If you tear yourself down or beat yourself up, you're not only hurting your own performance but also the collective performance of the team.

It is crucial to teach your players to have tolerance for their own performance and a realistic understanding that no one's perfect. Obviously, this isn't easy for most of us. To facilitate the process you can encourage your players to begin to build key words or phrases that will get them back on focus.

SHIFTING FOCUS FROM PAST. As a goalkeeper I used to say to myself when I'd make a mistake in a game, "OK, that was a bad play, but you're going to need to come up with a big play to win this game." So immediately, instead of focusing on the bad play I'd just made, I started focusing on that big play in order to reshape my mental approach. I didn't know when I was going to make it, but I knew that when I got the opportunity, it was going to be a big play that would turn the game around. In essence, my focus shifted from the past to the present because I needed to be ready now, in the moment.

Besides teaching self-tolerance, a coach must insist that his or her players are tolerant of their teammates. You cannot have a successful team if you have players who, when somebody makes a mistake, point fingers at their teammate or exhibit body language that says, "What the hell is this person doing?"

This kind of behavior definitely does not help performance. Instead, you need leaders and teammates who will actively support each other and boost the team's competitive edge through their understanding of competitive dynamics.

The best example I've seen of this occurred during the quarterfinals of the 1999 World Cup. We were playing Germany, one of the best teams in the world, and in the first five minutes of the game, Brandi Chastain kicked the ball into our own goal (essentially scoring a goal for Germany). She was in shock. At that point Carla Overbeck came up to her and said, "Brandi, we've got 85 minutes left to go. We'll get the goal back. But we need you in the game. Let's play."

This snapped Brandi back into the moment. The fairy-tale ending is that Brandi actually ended up scoring the tying goal in the second half of that World Cup quarterfinal. I don't think she would have scored that goal without the support and tolerance of her teammates for a very unfortunate mistake at a very crucial point in the game.

TRUST. On a personal level, an individual has to be pretty courageous to stay in there physically and emotionally to turn things around. It's not an easy thing to do when a player's confidence is in the gutter.

Some can do it consistently, but other players can only do it occasionally. I think it's the coach's job to try and facilitate the likelihood of that happening. You have to trust your players, trust that they can turn things around, trust that they can overcome their mistakes, and believe that they will be successful.

If you must take a player out of the game, and sometimes you will, then you've got to build up that player's confidence as soon as possible. In essence, you've got to rebuild her self-esteem. Players need to know that your coaching decisions are performance related and not personal.

Colleen has some great advice for helping players to do that. She would tell the players, "Look, let's get past it now. Let's focus on the plays you know you can make and have made so well and so often in the past. Let's play in the moment and deal with the mistakes later."

(Excerpted from "Catch Them Being Good: Everything You Need to Know to Successfully Coach Girls" by Tony DiCicco, Colleen Hacker & Charles Salzberg courtesy of Penguin Books.)

Tony DiCicco coached the U.S. women's national team to the 1996 Olympic Gold Medal and the 1999 Women's World Cup title. DiCicco, founder and director of SoccerPlus Camps , will be the Boston Breakers head coach when the club begins play in April of 2009 in the new women's professional soccer league. He is currently coach of the U.S. U-20 women's national team.

 



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