A National Alliance for Youth Sports resource helping coaches, parents and administrators provide the best youth sports experiences for children.
Mistakes: They should refine – not define – young players
By Greg Bach
The youth soccer landscape is littered with young players handcuffed by the fear of making mistakes.
And their enjoyment of the game – and their ability to learn, grow and develop – is compromised.
“We tell our kids that mistakes don’t define you, rather they should refine you,” says Jordan Burt, a professional soccer player for the Colorado Springs Switchbacks and co-founder of Pro Performance. “Ultimately, if you are not making mistakes you’re not stretching yourself and that has to change. So many kids struggle with it because they are so scared of making mistakes but in reality these kids should be making tons of mistakes because that’s ultimately the only way you are going to grow.”
That can happen if coaches take a step back and recognize how important mistakes are in a player’s journey to improvement.
Making it happen requires stressing to their teams during practices that mistakes are a part of the learning process and they are going to happen – and that it is how a player responds to them that really matters.
“Coaches need to change this underlying perspective of mistakes,” Burt says. “They’re fine as long as you’re trying to learn and grow from them because then ultimately you are not going to be dwelling on them.”
It’s a valuable lesson to teach young players, but one that will take a concerted and consistent effort to get across, especially since many youngsters are accustomed to being yelled at and criticized for committing mistakes.
“It’s a tough concept to grasp as a kid because I think so much of a kid’s thinking is ‘I need to do well to please the coach’ or ‘I need to do well to please my parents,’” Burt says. “So you’ve got to preach that mistakes don’t matter – it’s how you respond to them – because ultimately in any game you’re not going to have time to dwell on mistakes and that’s what I tell the kids all the time: Strategize, keep your mind away from those mistakes by strategizing and figuring out how to get better and how to make the next play or how to win the game.”
FAILING: A BADGE OF HONOR
Burt, along with professional players James Riley and Luke Vercollone, founded Pro Performance because they love the game and they love inspiring and impacting dedicated athletes through mentorship.
Burt played college soccer at Butler University, and he is quick to point out that his path to the professional ranks was filled with failure and disappointment.
But he never allowed it to define him as a player or sabotage his love for the game.
Instead, he used it as fuel to continue working hard and to continue striving to improve.
And it’s a message he shares with young players he works with.
“When I introduce myself to kids I tell them about all my failures – it’s almost like a badge of honor when you get to this level,” he says. “I got cut by this coach, I got cut by that coach, or whatever it may be. When you tell these kids these stories – and I don’t know of any pro that doesn’t have a massive failure story – it’s all about how you respond to them.”
Everyone experiences failures, setbacks and disappointments at various junctures of their life. So, Burt encourages volunteer coaches to not hold back from sharing some of them with their players to help them understand that they happen to everyone.
“Keep sharing these failures because that’s ultimately how you ingrain in them that it’s OK to fail, but it’s how you respond to it and that’s the cool part,” he says. “I think kids respond to that because I think they do realize no matter what their career that it isn’t going to be a straight line to the top.”
Mistakes are going to occur during youth sports games, but the defining moment is all about how young athletes react to them, says super-talented Orlando Pride midfielder Kristen Edmonds. What do your players do?
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