For Coaches
Reversing Reactions: Using mistake rituals to overcome negative plays

Reversing Reactions: Using mistake rituals to overcome negative plays


By Greg Bach

Errors and mistakes often linger in young athletes’ minds in the heat of game action, plaguing productivity and compromising confidence.

Getting kids to hit the fast forward button on those moments is crucial for performing in the present rather than dwelling on a past play that didn't go as hoped.

“One of the things I have been a big fan of is having a mistake ritual,” says Megan Griffith, the head women’s basketball coach at Columbia University. “And as a coach also not reacting negatively to a player. You never want to harp on a mistake.”


Even at the collegiate level, players are challenged with finding ways to stay positive when their shots aren’t dropping, or they’ve committed a costly turnover in a tight game.

“We talk to our team about this,” Griffith says. “Instead of having a negative reaction having a positive reaction by doing something that is going to lift your head up or make you feel like you’re moving on. So whether that’s brushing your shoulder off, or clapping once, or writing something on your shoe like ‘next play’ that you can glance down and look at. Just something really simple and not silly.”

Cultivating that mindset should begin in practice, she says. It’s where players can develop those positive habits that eventually become second nature on game day when adversity arrives.

And it’s a mindset that can serve youth well in all areas of their life.

“To me it’s more than basketball,” Griffith says. “They should use them (mistake rituals) when doing their homework or doing their chores. You want kids to develop positive habits and to me it’s an everyday thing. It’s not just when you are on the basketball court.”


When mistakes occur how a player responds is important.

And how a coach reacts is, too.

“Players are constantly looking to us for approval,” Griffith says. “So it’s letting them know that as long as they are thinking forward during those moments that is the most important thing.”


Griffith reminds volunteer coaches that every practice is valuable – and every interaction with a young player can be so impactful.

“You want to make sure that you are teaching at every moment,” she says. “I really do think that’s powerful. I think it’s powerful for the people you are teaching and it’s also empowering for you to understand the effect that you can have on someone.”

She was on the receiving end of those powerful coach-player interactions during her playing days at Columbia, where she was a two-time All-Ivy League selection and one of only nine players in school history to score more than 1,000 points during their career.

Now she’s the one delivering those influential messages to players.

“It only takes one coach to believe in you for you to achieve a level higher than where you were,” Griffith says. “And for me, sometimes I can send you to the moon and sometimes I can just literally help you get through a drill.”

Basketball Coaching Teaching Mistakes Practice Mindset

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