How do You Respond to Errors

Sports Psychology Tips: How do You Respond to Errors

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Errors are a natural part of sport

Whether you as an athlete, or your players as a coach hit the ball wide of goal, play a poor pass, mishandle the ball or miss a short putt… errors happen.

Can you prevent errors? I say NO!  I’ve never seen a robot play sport!  Even the best athletes, Cristiano Ronaldo, Tiger Woods, Virat Kohli, Beauden Barrett or Novak Djokovic make errors and are far from perfect.  

So if you’re an athlete or a coach who gets carried away when a mistake is made – consider your approach and read on.

As you can’t prevent errors, what you could consider is how to improve your responses to errors.  How do you react?  Do you remain calm, composed and confident and focus on the right cues on the next shot, pass or play?  By doing so you’ll give yourself the best opportunity to perform more consistently at a higher level.  

The 5 biggest mental game challenges that I see for athletes after making errors are:

  • They become angry and frustrated.
  • They dwell on the mistake and remain stuck in the past.
  • They lose confidence in themselves, their skills and technique.
  • Some athletes give up if they don’t deliver shots or passes that live up to their high expectations. 
  • They blame other people or outside influences and sulk. 

Do these reactions sound familiar, is there one challenge that can ruin your performances or a combination of all of them?

How should I react to errors?

I believe that you have two options after making a mistake.  You can keep repeating past behaviours and habits.  By getting upset, frustrated, and angry that you aren’t performing to your potential.  You may also want to give up.  Either way these are negative emotions and mean that your performances will never reach the heights that they could and should do. 

The better choice is to consider what the top, top athletes do when they make a mistake.

Does Ronaldo go missing for 30 minutes? 

Does Tiger Woods sulk and give up after a bad hole?

Does Virat Kohli blame the pitch?

Does Beauden Barrett lose confidence?

Does Novak Djokovic let anger impact on how he responds on the next point?  


So the better option is to react to errors in a composed manner.  To remain positive and think more about what is possible.  You could even view errors as a challenge, seeing how well you can bounce back.

By taking this approach you’ll give yourself a better chance of learning from your errors and improving rather than plateauing because of mental blocks that you put up yourself.

When is best to analyse my performances? 

Leave this till after the game, match, race or round to assess your performance.  You could do a warm review straight afterwards and a cold review the following day when you’ve slept on your performance and feel calmer.  

When you are competing by getting caught up analysing your performance you set yourself up nicely to overthink things, so it’s not a very good time to do so.  

How can I remain confident and use errors as a driving force to get better?

Here are 5 simple and practical tips.

1. Understand that perfection does not exist, appreciate that you are a human being not a robot and that errors are a part of sport. 

2. Remind yourself of your strengths and areas of your game that are going well.  It’s very easy to get bogged down looking at the negatives when you make unforced errors and your A or B game doesn’t show up.  So give yourself some credit for the simple smaller things such as giving 100% commitment, being aggressive or fearless, passing well or putting well – THIS IS IMPORTANT!

3. Stay present, do not get stuck in the past dwelling on errors.  It’s important to focus on the present or the next pass, shot, ball or putt.  

4. Recognise that making an error is not an issue.  The real problem is when you react in a negative manner to the error with frustration and dwell in the past. This then turns into making more errors and often paralysis by analysis.

5. Do not get too far ahead of yourself and catastrophize about the future performance.  Remain in the moment, as worrying about what may happen in 30 minutes or an hour will only mean that your focus is misplaced.

So a little reminder even the best athletes in the world across all sports do not perform perfectly with NO errors.  They are quick to recognise that errors are part of sport, this means that they are able to stay composed and confident, maintaining a clear perspective after missed chances or poor shots or passes.

Use errors as a challenge to yourself to become a better athlete or coach and improve your performance, instead of using errors to become super critical of yourself.  This doesn’t help anyone and with added pressure can impact on your mental health negatively.

Or if you found this article helpful, please share it with your friends, team-mates, parents or coaches.  You can also join our online community – THE SPORTS PSYCHOLOGY HUB – for regular Sports Psychology tips, podcasts, motivation and support.

Best Wishes 

David Charlton

Global Sports Psychologist located near Newcastle Upon Tyne, UK and willing to travel Internationally.  

Managing Director – Inspiring Sporting Excellence and Founder of The Sports Psychology Hub.  With over 10 years experience supporting athletes, coaches, parents and teams to achieve their goals, quickly.  

T: +44 7734 697769

E: [email protected]

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