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  • Writer's pictureCameron Branch

How to Recover from a Mistake Like a Pro

Updated: Feb 9

Over the course of my 5 year professional volleyball career, I've had several athletes ask me about my mindset, and how I recover from a mistake. In this article, I will share a few tips that I use on a daily basis for both myself and my clients. This article can help you if you are: 1) stressed about making mistakes in games, 2) if you want to learn how to recover quickly from a mistake, 3) how to use mistakes as an opportunity for growth.

Let's start with some real world examples as it applies to volleyball. This may be very applicable to how you are feeling!

"I've always been a little too hard on myself which makes it tough when I feel like I've been making too many mistakes". - youth volleyball athlete

"I’m currently facing a big problem where on serve receive if I mess up I feel like I’m not doing my job correctly and I talk bad about my self. I dig my self into a hole." - youth volleyball athlete

"I usually get nervous a couple hours before a game. I fear that I will make a mistake during the game." - college volleyball athlete

"Sometimes I miss out staying aggressive because I’m kinda scared of doing a mistake. And by trying to avoid the mistake, the outcome is mostly a mistake." - professional volleyball athlete

Cameron Branch attacks from the front row. Photo Credits: Gepa
Attacking the ball from the front row during an away match vs. Graz. Photo Credits: Gepa
#1) Volleyball is known to be a game of mistakes. Play point for point.

You have to understand that mistakes are part of the game. When you make a mistake on the court, it doesn't define who you are as an athlete (or person). As athletes, we tend to question our self-worth when we make a mistake. We feel negative emotions such as shame, guilt and embarrassment (at-least this is the case for me). Understand that no one is perfect and we are all on a journey to learn from our mistakes. Even at the highest levels of volleyball, players make mistakes, often. The athletes that learn from their mistakes, are the athletes who rise above (mental skill #3 down below).

On that note, play point for point. Instead of viewing the game as the first to 25, view the game point for point. In the past, I've let the situation of the game distract me from the next point, especially in crunch time situations. The score doesn’t matter if you play point for point. Give it your best each and every point. If you make a mistake, next point.

#2) Accept and own your mistake. Focus on what you can control.

Ok, so you made a mistake. Accept that mistakes are part of the game, and own that you made a mistake. Draw awareness to it, but don't dwell on it too long because it may cause you to lose focus for the next point. While you may want to place the blame on other teammates or the gym environment - "the set wasn't high enough for me!" , or "the gym was dark, and poorly lighted, that's why I missed my serve!", or "that wasn't my ball!". Let's face the music, a mistake was made. While this may seem like a hard truth in the moment, accepting that you made a mistake is a critical step to recover quickly and get yourself back into the game.

On that note, focus on what you can control (e.g., talking to the setter or teammates) , and less on what you can't control (e.g., the gym environment). Use positive self-talk (mental skill #1 down below), and use a refocus strategy (mental skill #2 down below). Equally, talk it out with your teammates and coaches. After all, volleyball is a collaborative team sport, and it takes a team to win. For example, if you make a hitting error, it may not be your fault entirely. Talk to your teammates and coach about it (check out mental skill #3 below). They may have a different perspective that can provide useful feedback. This can help you identify what happened and can ultimately make you feel better. I guess this is why timeouts and the huddle were invented?

Mental skills that I use daily with myself and clients!

#1) Positive Self-Talk

How do you talk to yourself when a mistake is made? What does the voice inside your head say? Is your self-talk negative (don’t mess up again) or is it positive (I can do this, I am ready) ? We want our self-talk to be positive after a mistake, moving us towards the next point. To work on this, I encourage you to bring awareness to how you speak to yourself after a mistake in training. Importantly, self-talk is a mental skill that can be improved but it takes practice! Here are some general examples of positive self-talk that I use when I make a mistake.

I can do this.
I am ready.
I have worked hard for this moment.
I am confident in my abilities.

#2) Reset and Refocus

How do you refocus after a mistake? I’ve seen several different refocus strategies including touching the floor, walking to a specific corner of the court, or wiping the bottom of your shoes. For me, 1 big deep breath (inhaling through the nose, and exhaling through the mouth), is what helps me focus up for the next point. If you don't have a refocus strategy, try implementing 1 big deep breath after a mistake and draw attention to how it makes you feel.

#3) Post-Game Reflection

After the game or training, obtain feedback from yourself, teammates and coaches.

Here are 3 things that you can reflect on.

What went well today?

What went poorly? What was challenging about today?

What is something that I want to improve on?

Whether the feedback is positive or negative, use this information to guide what you focus on in the next training. Take everything as a learned experience and focus on what can you do better next time. Reflection and focused goals are where growth and improvement occurs!

Final Action Step!

Thank you for reading! If you thought this article was helpful, please click the share icon and share the article to your profiles so other athletes and coaches can benefit.

Follow along here on Instagram where I provide weekly tips on foundational resources including training, recovery, nutrition, and mindset!

Also, be sure to check out other articles within the  The Athlete Toolbox.

Cameron Branch

Founder | Lead Coach | Branch Sports Performance

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