Mistakes Offer Opportunity For Growth

BY DR. VIRGINIA SAVAGE FOR FLORIDA TODAY

It can be easy to forget how great we are, or can be. Something as simple as losing a point or missing a pass can suck confidence and energy right down the brain drain. A mistake can seem like a catastrophe and then we become so worried about making another mistake that opportunities are missed and bad luck seizes the day.

The interesting catch is that mistakes can be an opportunity to really shine. There is no reason to strive for something better if you are already perfect and mistakes force us to make a choice: either learn from it, move on, and change or repeat it in another way somewhere down the road. Mistakes are not really the issue; it’s the ability to recover, to rise above disaster with determination and courage that truly counts.

Countless articles and books tell us of heroes and heroines who overcame terrible losses and disabilities to inspire us with their accomplishments. What inspires us most, however, is their mental toughness: a disciplined will that refuses to give in; otherwise recognized as determination and courage. Each characteristic alone is admirable, but together they are unbeatable.

Even players such as French star Zinedine Zidane have comeback stories under their belt. In 2002, Zidane was injured in a warm-up game and wasn’t able to return to play until the final three games of the season. Two years later he returned and ultimately earned titles, trophies, and a possible position in the Soccer Hall of Fame. His hard-earned legacy, however, was tarnished in one moment of lost self-control in the World Cup final this year.

Mia Hamm, another soccer heroine who took the U.S. team to Olympic gold in 1998, has written a children’s book entitled “Winners Never Quit.” In the book, a young soccer player named Mia quits after things are not going well and she gets discouraged. In the end she realizes that it isn’t as much about winning as it is about just being in the game.

Soccer is no different that any other sport in the sense that practice, learning from mistakes, and more practice is the only way to stay in the game. If you can’t recover from mistakes you will never improve performance, develop character or truly experience the joy of playing. Developing mental toughness is both the practice and the goal whether it is recovering from a mistake or from an injury. Mental toughness is all about a winning attitude.

In order to be mentally tough it is important to develop a strong positive sense of self. Can you accept responsibility for your choices without judging yourself harshly? Can you avoid making choices out of fear? Do you accept failure too easily? When you do fail, are you courageous about it?

Bill Beswick of Focused On Soccer talks about an “outstanding basketball player” who missed two foul shots as the clock ran out, resulting in a lost national championship. He had no trouble taking responsibility without blaming anyone else: “Sometimes in sport you are a hero, sometimes a bum,” he said.

“Today, I am a bum, tomorrow I will be a hero.”

Motivation is both external and internal. Recognition, trophies, and money are exciting external rewards but the mentally tough player is rewarded by something within. You are involved in the game because you want to be there, because you love the game, and because you are proud of your character as a result of playing.

Practice must reflect the same physical and mental intensity as competition. When you feel like giving up, give yourself 10 more minutes, pump up the energy and focus. If you work out harder you will have more endurance in competition. Plus you will avoid injuries by not having to play when you are tired. You are capable of more than you think.

Stay positive in the face of disaster. Steel yourself to focus on your goals, not your losses. Relax when you are nervous and energize when you need it. When you are angry, show your strength of character by refocusing energy on your role as a player. Ask yourself why you have committed to the challenges of soccer. Ask why you need to accept criticism, and how you will deal with failure. If you know these things, and remember them, you will know yourself better. No one can hurt you with opinions and comments unless you believe it, even just a teensy little bit. Smile, it will drive your opponent nuts.

Yes, mental toughness is something that we admire in our heroes. It is something that seems almost superhuman at times. Understanding and practice leads to a higher level of understanding and practice until you find yourself a master. I think you will find you are tougher than you think, it just takes a mistake to prove you can rise above it. Failure is success if you learn from it.