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How to Win

The Biggest Mistake of All

With the NFL conference title games and the Super Bowl coming up, you’ll hear a lot about mistakes.

Players and coaches like to say that the team that makes the fewest mistakes will win.

But is that true? It’s possible that the biggest mistake of all is making no mistakes. So says Dave Cross, a coach who specializes in the mental side of the sports.

“It is a very common mistake that athletes of all ages (and coaches, too) place too much emphasis on the outcome of their performance, and not enough on the process,” says Cross, co-author of the mental training book “Volleyball Cybernetics.” “What we stress to the players is simply that there are no mistakes, only learning experiences, with one exception: not giving 100% mentally and physically.

“In other words, as long as they are focused on the task at hand and are giving it their all, that’s all they, or their coaches and teammates, can expect of them. When players compete with this mindset, they are much more aggressive, simply because they are not worried about making mistakes.

“They are not worried about failure. Playing aggressively always leads to better performance. When athletes are playing well, they have more fun. When they are having fun, they play harder and more aggressively. It’s a cyclical effect.”

No one will deny that interceptions and fumbles can swing a game, just as Ray Rice’s turnover did in the Steelers’ victory over the Baltimore Ravens. What’s less obvious is how much an overly cautious attitude will hurt a team.

For instance, the very nature of a pass involves risk. Whenever a quarterback throws the ball, only three things can happen, and two of them are bad: The pass can either be incomplete or intercepted. Despite these negative possibilities, teams throw the ball. There is no other way to win.

So the question becomes not whether to take risks, but how to manage those risks. Take interceptions, for example. They come in more than one variety. There are physical mistakes, such as throwing inaccurately. There are mental mistakes, such as throwing a ball that should never be thrown. Finally, there is the in-between ball, the high-risk pass that CAN be successful but that requires a perfect throw.

Knowing the difference between these types can help quarterbacks manage risk.

Then there’s the fumble. When running backs fight for extra yardage and hold the ball, they receive praise. When they fight for extra yardage and fumble, they have committed a mistake. Where do running backs draw the line? Should they hit the ground the moment they are touched? Not likely.

One thing is for sure. At the end of the conference games and the Super Bowl, the statistics will show which team had more fumbles and interceptions. But there is no statistic to measure the chances lost through fear of making a mistake.

For a copy of “10 Things Great Coaches Know” by Mike Tully and Gary Pritchard, click here.


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