Creating an environment where making a mistake is a positive thing


I believe that mistakes are a fundamental part of learning, and creating an environment where children are encouraged for their effort, not just the result is vital if we are going to produce a player who in willing to take players on or keep control of the ball under pressure. As Albert Einstein said “Anyone who has never made a mistake has never tried anything new.”

Looking at today’s England players and comparing them to players from the Brazil or Spain national team for example, there are two differences that leap out at me. The first is how uncomfortable England players are in possession of the ball, when put under pressure, compared to their counterparts from South America and Spain. I believe this is at least in part down to the culture that existed in England of ‘get rid’ and of berating players for losing the ball.

The second difference is how willing players are to take on a man. I have watched Liverpool for 36 years and have been lucky to watch some fantastic players in those decades, but one player in particular stands out as a victim of the English mentality to berate mistakes and that is Steve McManaman. He started his Liverpool career so brightly, beating players for fun with his silky dribbling skills, but as the years wore on and he got used to being berated by the crowd when he lost the ball, he seemed to stop trying. He would jink towards a player, drop a shoulder, and then come backwards and pass it. It being both the ball and responsibility. To my mind, he learned that losing the ball was bad, and thus stopped trying and thus depriving the club of arguably his best attribute.

The Football Association have made great strides in trying to help with this by introducing mini-soccer and the Respect guides, as well as running coaching course for the coaches, but I still see managers moaning at players for making mistakes too often at U7’s level and it is even worse as the kids get older.

I believe coaches should praise the effort of players who try to keep a hold of the ball, even if they lose it, because it teaches them that they were doing the right thing and gives them the confidence to try it again. With practice, they will develop and improve. Criticising the mistake teaches them that it is better to pass the ball, and the responsibility to someone else. I think it is equally important that parents are on the same page with this, but that is another story!

Do you have any views on this? Any thoughts on how this can be coached? Does anybody disagree?

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3 Replies to “Creating an environment where making a mistake is a positive thing”

  1. Confidence is definitely important, but there are also times when you *should* pass the ball and when hanging on to it until you lose it *is* the wrong decision. Sometimes there are better options, and decision making is also an important skill. Of course, with kids, you shouldn’t be too critical of any mistakes. I agree that kids get the idea of passing the responsibility along with the ball, and how criticism can destroy confidence. On the other hand, encouragement is priceless.

    Not from a youth coaching perspective, but from my own experience – I played youth rec soccer as a kid, then I got back into playing a couple years ago in pickup games and I’m now in a 30+ league. It’s fairly low-key, with a lot of different ability levels. Almost everyone is encouraging, and if you try to keep the ball and lose it, no big deal. “Good try”, “good idea”, “next time”. And the next time, you’re encouraged “take it upfield”, “dribble it”, etc. I don’t think it’s a coincidence that a lot of the players are involved with youth coaching. They’re used to encouraging the kids, so they turn around and encourage the adults too.

  2. Hi Alex, thanks for your thoughts.

    I would agree with you that sometimes passing is the right option of course, but it is all about how the mistake is managed. It is all about opinions of course, but I often shake my head when I see coaches shout at players retrospectively for making what the coach deemed a wrong decision. Much better, in my opinion, to talk afterwards and ask the player to consider what other possibilities might have been open to them.

    Do you agree?

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