I am sure everybody has heard the old saying “sticks and stones may break my bones, but words can’t hurt me.” This is a myth. Words do hurt. Words can cut like a knife. They can cut deep. Words can take joy away from accomplishment.
This is especially true for young athletes in any sport who come off the field or the court and are greeted by an adult that they respect and hold in high regard, and the first thing out of their mouth is not about the seven good things they did while playing, but about the one mistake they made. Or what about the player who has given everything they could give on the field against a superior opponent, and then they are asked why they lost instead of getting credit for the effort and quality of their play?
Over the years, I have seen players upset on the sideline during the middle of a game. More than once I have asked, “what’s wrong?” The player proceeds to tell me that one of her parents or a grandparent is going to be upset that she made a mistake on some play. My perspective typically has been she played a quality game, did far more things right than she did wrong. Yet she was worried about the one mistake she made. The joy of playing the game had been taken from her.
There are two quotes from John Wooden, arguably one of the best coaches of all time, that we all need to keep in mind when we start to focus on the mistakes.
“The team that makes the most mistakes usually wins, because doers make mistakes,” and “You never fail if you know in your heart that you did the best of which you are capable. I did my best. That is all I could do. Are you going to make mistakes? Of course. But it is not failure if you make the full effort.”
I want doers on my team. Players need to develop their ability to learn from their mistakes so they can improve. They need to understand that leaving their full effort on the field is far more important than a mistake or two. I want my players to leave the maximum effort on the field and play. Keyword, is play. Games are supposed to be enjoyable, not about being afraid of making a mistake or disappointing us.
As another old saying goes, “If you cannot say something nice, do not say anything at all.” If you need something nice to say after a game, use the phrase that a good friend of mine ends every communication to his team, “I love to watch you play.”