By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck LLC
“Learn from it!” It is a phrase I have probably uttered a hundred times as a coach and parent, and one I’ve heard others use as well. When a player makes a mistake, we tell them to think about what they did wrong and use this introspection as a catalyst for improvement. But is that good advice?
I was thinking about this topic after I visited one of my sons to see him play baseball. He hit his first homerun of the season and after the game I saw him watching the replay. It occurred to me that maybe we should be watching videos of our strikeouts instead, so we can see what we need to correct. The line that came to me was, “We can learn more from our failures than our successes.” This axiom sounded familiar, but I wasn’t sure if I had ever heard this exact phrase or if it was original, so I looked it up. I was surprised by what I found.
Yes, of course, those same words have been written before, albeit obscurely. That is not what surprised me. What I didn’t expect when I did this search was that contrary to common beliefs about learning from failure, research suggests that one actually learns more from success.
A recent study concluded that because we do not enjoy failing, we tend to tune it out, try to forget about it. This means that what we as coaches see as “teachable moments” might not be resonating with our players as much as we had hoped. The study went on to say that we do learn from witnessing other’s failures because those do not hurt us to experience. But when it comes to failures of our own, we tend to block them out and, therefore, not gain much knowledge from them.
So, let’s put that into the coaching arena. A player makes a mistake during practice. We stop everything and say, “What did you do wrong there?” The player explains the gaffe, and we say, “Learn from it.” According to this study, this exercise will help the rest of the players on the team, (if they are paying attention), but will not be that beneficial to the player who committed the error.
It got me thinking. Coaches and teachers are programmed to point out mistakes because it is our job to correct them. But how often do we point out successes? When a kid on your team hits a home run or scores the winning goal, we typically celebrate. We say “Great job,” jokingly tell them to do it again, etc. But do we ever really stop after a successful play and say, “What did you do right just then?”, and “Learn from it”? Maybe we should.
I would love to go back to my coaching days and use this method of teaching. When players made a great play, rather than simply congratulating them, it would have been tremendous to have asked them to think about and show or tell me how they were successful. And even more importantly, how about applying this technique to everyday parenting? When a child accomplishes something meaningful, instead of simply saying, “Good job” or “I’m proud of you,” what about saying, “Show me how you did that.”?
I do believe we can gain knowledge from our mistakes. But it makes sense that we may learn even more from our accomplishments. As coaches, teachers, and parents, it would be a mistake on our part not to reinforce the positives.
Brian Gotta is a former youth baseball coach and volunteer Little League board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels and a baseball coaching book which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org