How should Leaders deal with mistakes?

November 22, 2017

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Today’s Leadership Minute was written byThomas Flanders, Elementary Teacher and Head Girls Varsity Coach in Warwick RI, and a student in the Leadership and Team Dynamics class at Ohio University, taught by Jay Martin, Men’s Soccer Coach, Ohio Wesleyan University and a Founder of our Ross Leadership Institute.

Many coach/leaders like to consider themselves an authority in their area of instruction or business. This type of attitude does not lend itself to admitting mistakes and failures. I have heard coaches say that they do not want to enroll in coaching courses, because they would not learn anything from other coaches. These coaches possess a fixed mindset. Carol Dweck’s (2006) research demonstrates people who have a fixed mindset about what they know (certainty that they are “right”), make the worst leaders.

Leaders with this type of mindset say statements like, “I have been coaching for 20 years and know what I need to know.” This amount of experience is impressive if the time has been well spent constantly working to improve their craft as a coach/leader. If the coach’s 20 years was spent repeating the same mistakes over and over, then this time and experience becomes less impressive.

One factor that affects the progression of a coach’s abilities to coach and lead is the inability to try new things and the fear of making mistakes. I can say that early in my coaching career, I thought I knew it all in the areas of coaching and leading my soccer program. I felt that nobody could teach me anything and I did not want to listen to any other coach’s ideas. I made the mistake of ignoring my players’ thoughts and ideas, which ultimately affected our success. Ultimately, I realized that I could learn from my mistakes. I can recall a training session about 25 years ago, when I failed communicating with one of my players. The player made a mistake and I immediately screamed at her. She immediately shut down; I had lost her. This was one of my earliest mistakes in the area of communication with a player. The next day she made a similar mistake, and I called her over to me for a talk. “I asked her what would be a better decision?” She volunteered great information and she felt respected and validated. Beswick (2016) states, mistakes are simply a part of the trial-and-error learning process unless the adverse reaction of the coach damages the self-esteem and confidence of the player. Good coaching is therefore a balance of toughness and love, and the younger the player is, the more the balance tips towards love.

I soon realized that the times in my coaching career when I learned the most was when I failed and made mistakes. This understanding led me to realize my way was not always the best or the correct way. Mistakes always happen, so coaches need strategies for dealing with them (Beswick, 2016). These strategies need to be created when players make mistakes and when the coach makes mistakes. To properly lead my program and realize my potential as a coach, I had to expand my knowledge with the help of books, articles, coaching education, other coaches and my players. I had to leave my comfort zone to become a modern coach with a growth mindset. Dweck (2006) reports, those with a growth mindset see “mistakes” as challenges to push the boundaries of what they know. They don’t talk about having “failed”, but instead, ask themselves, “How can I use this situation as a learning opportunity? What do I need to know to address this problem.?”

Making mistakes is scary, but not having the proper knowledge or skills to assist my players was more frightening to me. How could I expect my players to handle setbacks and failures, if I was not resilient enough to explore new experiences? By making mistakes, I demonstrated to my players that everyone makes mistakes. Learning to deal with adversity teaches us to be resilient in soccer and in life. Based on my experiences leaders that are afraid to make mistakes and fail never realize their true potential as a coach, a leader, or as a person. In short, being accessible, answering questions, admitting mistakes, and saying you’re sorry aren’t liabilities (Whitehurst, 2015). A leader must possess these abilities if he/she wants to build credibility and respect with those they lead.


Beswick, B. (2016). One goal: the mindset of winning soccer teams. Champaign, IL: Human Kinetics.

Whitehurst, J. (2015, June 02). Be a Leader Who Can Admit Mistakes. Retrieved November 09, 2017, from

Dweck, Carol. 2006. Mindset: the new psychology of success. New York: Ballantine Books.

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