The mistake management: why is it so difficult

In many cultures there are sayings that remind us how important it is to learn to react to negative situations and mistakes. They say, for example, “When a door closes, a big door opens,” while US people like to repeat, “It doesn’t matter how many times you fall, but how quickly you get back up,” and the Japanese say, “Fall seven times, get back up the eighth.” These statements highlight that in order to be successful, one must develop a full awareness of how common it is to make mistakes and how equally relevant it is to react constructively.

There are no shortcuts, because mistakes cannot be eliminated; you have to make mistakes, like during an obstacle course in which you are aware at all times that you can make mistakes, slow down, make a great effort to overcome an obstacle even if you are well prepared and know the path. So, if this is the way to go, it is necessary to prevent mistakes from becoming an alibi used to confirm to oneself the impossibility of overcoming one’s current limits, with the effect of determining a reduction in commitment, since “There’s nothing to do anyway” or “Yes, there is a lot to do, but I’m not talented enough or I’m unlucky”. It is therefore necessary to build, through daily activity, a work culture that considers error as an integral part of the improvement process.

On the other hand, sport is a context in which the presence of errors is a constant in every performance, very often even in winning ones. In skeet shooting, the world record, hitting 125 over 125 has been achieved 12 times in the last 25 years. On every other occasion, shooters have always made mistakes. In the sports of body coordination in space, there are very few times when an athlete, male or female, has achieved the highest score.

In basketball, Michael Jordan said, “In my life I have missed over nine thousand shots, I have lost almost three hundred games, twenty-six times my teammates have entrusted me with the decisive shot and I have missed. I failed many times. And that’s why in the end I won everything.” Also in basketball, in the EuroLeague only 8.5% of players made 90% of their free throws, 35% made 80%, 32% made 70% of their attempts, and 24% made less than 70% (Cei 2018). In soccer, everyone misses penalties from Roberto Baggio in the ’94 World Cup final to those misses by Messi, Modric and Ronaldo at the World Cup in Russia.

Despite these data, many athletes do not accept the possibility of making mistakes, sometimes they are even surprised: “Because everything was going so well” or “Because I felt so good that I thought I could never make a mistake” while other times the difficulty in accepting them emerges when the athlete is in the opposite situation, so he thinks: “It could not have been worse, that mistake caught me suddenly and I did not know how to react, I got confused thinking about what to do differently and from there it was a ruin”. Both these situations, one positive and the second negative, reported by the athletes quite frequently, highlight the difficulty in accepting the error and not having previously planned a way to deal with what could have negatively affected the performance.

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