Use Your Mistakes to Become a Better Athlete

Female triathlete running

Think about the last few games or competitions you took part in. Now think about something specific that happened where you were unhappy with your performance or fell short of what you had hoped to accomplish. How did you react? Did you come up with “reasons” for it (the coach yelled at you, you were tired, it was raining) or did you view it as a learning opportunity and use it to improve? When we feel like we’ve fallen short, it can be tempting to make excuses, blame circumstances or come up with a host of creative reasons why it wasn’t our fault. But if your goal is to be the best athlete you can be, taking ownership of your performance and honestly evaluating how you did can yield valuable insight that will help you grow and improve.

If you’re ready to take ownership of your athletic career, follow the lead of successful collegiate and professional athletes: the next time there’s a competition coming up, commit to giving your absolute best effort – no excuses. In practices, train with 100% effort until you feel mentally and physically prepared. On game day, just focus on what you’re there to execute and don’t worry about what anyone else is doing or what’s happening around you. Instead, relax, give your full attention to every moment of your performance and try to enjoy yourself. As soon as possible afterward, grab a notebook or journal and write down an honest evaluation of how you think you did, remembering to include all the positives as well as areas for possible improvement. To get you started, here are a few suggested self-evaluation questions:

  • What went well?

  • Why did it go well?

  • What part were you responsible for?

  • What will you change so you can do more of that the next time?

  • What didn’t go as well as you wanted?

  • Why didn’t it go well?

  • What part were you responsible for?

  • What will you change so you can do less of that the next time?

  • What did you learn and how will you apply your insight to your next performance?

Once you’ve completed your self-evaluation, it might help to share it with your coach, parent or trainer to get their perspective and agree on a plan for applying what you’ve learned to your next training session or performance. Regardless of whether you had the best game, race or match of your life or you feel like you totally blew it, if you treat each performance as a learning experience you’ll start to see mistakes as opportunities to improve your game. You’ll also start to automatically look for positives in each performance rather than beating yourself up or assigning blame. Approaching your performances this way takes some discipline and a bit of practice, but it’s the best way to keep getting better and it puts you firmly in control of your own destiny.

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Eva Bart-Williams is a mental performance coach with a private practice helping individuals and teams achieve big goals. Eva is also CBW Soccer Elite’s head of operations, where she helps athletes embrace the challenges of high-level competition and advises families on the college soccer recruitment process. You can reach her at

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