I love elegant, simple sport psychology. This is the reason I was so interested when Andrew DuBos Beyer, a youth volleyball coach tweeted a technqiue he uses to help manage mistakes and failure I was so intrigued. I asked Andrew to write a blog piece for me about this tool – which he kindly agreed to do. Here are his thoughts:

One of the largest obstacles to most athletes’ development is the natural tendency to engage in negative self-talk and thought patterns after making a mistake – terrible soccer psychology! Such negative self-talk is often mixed with negative emotional energy, particularly during competition, and results in distraction from the immediate concerns of focusing on the external task at hand (the game) and maintaining an ideal internal mindset geared for success.

What tools can you use to help your athletes and teams overcome this typical mental toughness obstacle to perform better and more consistently during practice and competition?

“I’m Learning”

More than anything, I want my athletes to be successful. As a youth coach, I see failure for them as a failure of mine and so I simply do not allow it as a part of our team culture (for me, culture is a big part of effective sport psychology). We have two outcomes we can view each instance as: a success or a learning opportunity. n my mind it is ‘succeed or learn, there is no fail’.

Success is a skill that can be taught and developed. This applies to any activity, not just sports. Following the age-old mantra that “attitude is everything,” keeping a positive, forward-focused mindset has always been one of the simple keys to consistent, high-level performance. Simply asking for this from your players, from your staff, and also from the parents is easier said than done. I have found one tool that addresses this complex issue in a simple and surprisingly successful way: “I’m Learning!”

“I’m Learning!” is a mistake ritual. Whenever one of my athletes commits an error, I have them yell out “I’m Learning!” This verbalized ritual is really a gimmick, but it works on several levels simultaneously.

First, it ensures that the internal processes of the athlete are positive phrases. The internal chemistry and wired pathways of our brain are as subject to habit as the rest of our behaviors – so build a positive response habit to mistakes.

Secondly, it prepares the athlete for another opportunity to correct the mistake – rather than give them doubts about wanting the ball to find them again, they seek out the chance to try again and show they have learned from the mistake. Finally, it provides a light-hearted atmosphere where teammates feel less pressure.

Mistakes happen; let them. In practice especially, mistakes are okay unless we cannot learn from them. “I’m Learning!” is an athlete’s tough-minded refusal to let any mistake beat them or stop them from improving.

Andrew DuBos Beyer is a youth volleyball coach from New Orleans