Root Causes of Repeated Mistakes

Repeated mistakes are the bane of any coach. Why do they happen and how do we fix them?

I was reading a thread on the DC forum today and the author was talking about repeated mistakes and how to stop them. I don’t really have an original thought in my head, but I’ve been lucky to have been inspired by dozens of great thinkers over the years. It’s been my experience that repeated mistakes have 3 root causes:

* Don’t know * Don’t care * Not good enough *

I coached under Dan Johnson last year and he was a first year header. At the beginning, he said something profound that I would have expected from a veteran HC. On the first day of practice he told the boys that if we accomplish nothing else all year, every single one of you will know how to line up in a perfect 3 point stance. Dan went on to say that everyone is capable of doing this with the proper instruction and the right amount of work. We as coaches would impart the knowledge to eliminate “Don’t know”. We as coaches would provide the motivation to eliminate the “Don’t care”. And we as coaches would provide ample opportunity for repetition to eliminate the “Not good enough”.

“Don’t Know” This root cause falls about 99% on the coach. I figure that if you have “taught” the subject (skill, technique, responsibility . . . whatever) to the player 3 times, you have probably eliminated “don’t know” and can move on to another root cause. Notice that I said “taught” rather than “told”. Telling is a part of teaching, but a small part. Fixing “Don’t Know” is easy. Teach the player the what, when, who, how and why of the subject matter. When you’ve taught a subject once, it usually sticks. If it didn’t, assume you messed up somewhere and teach it again. If it still hasn’t found a home in the player’s brain housing unit, teach it a third time just to be sure. After that, it’s safe to eliminate “don’t know” as a root cause, which brings us to . . .

“Don’t Care” This is a big one. Normally, I advocate the idea that the coach shoulders 99% of what happens on the football field. A recent experience has caused me to break from that protocol. For the sake of compromise, I’ll concede that “Don’t Care” is 50/50 between player and coach. “Don’t care” manifests itself in may ways. It could be “I don’t care to fire off low because I would rather not play offensive tackle”. It could be “I don’t care to run the ball between the tackle and the kick-out block because I would rather bounce it outside.” It could also be “I don’t care to give more effort because that’s the type of person I am.” This one’s a little tricky as it’s all about motivation. The more time you spend motivating, the less time you spend teaching and repping. The traditional debate on motivating evolves around the carrot vs. the stick. We all know what those are and we all have our ideas on which to use, as well as when and how, so I won’t get into that. Instead, I’ll offer a 3rd alternative for situations where both the carrot and the stick have failed: “Let the horse drive.”  Another great coach I worked under was Keenan Mahoney, son of Mike, aka “Mahonz”. A great lesson I learned from him was what he told his team on day one, “This is not my football team and it sure as heck isn’t your parents’ football team. This is YOUR team.” That set the table for these kids to OWN their football experience. These were 2nd graders, so some weren’t quite ready to own anything, but it set the foundation for the players to motivate each other and more importantly, motivate themselves. That team overachieved (IMHO) their way to a winning record and a playoff appearance in a TOUGH division. The following year, they won the Superbowl. It is extremely satisfying to inspire a kid to go the extra mile to improve himself for the sake of his team. From a pragmatic point of view, it’s extremely effective at eliminating “Don’t Care”. So in a nutshell: “Carrot” = “Hey guys, if we have a good practice and get those 3 plays installed, we will play “British Bulldog” to end practice.” “Stick” = “Hey guys, if we don’t practice well and get those 3 plays installed, you’ll be running gassers to end practice.” “Let the Horse Drive” = “Captains, the team has the last 15 minutes of practice. If you think effort was lacking, you can decide to run gassers as a group. If you think technique is a problem, we can work on fundamentals in groups. If you think those 3 plays we installed need work, we can work on those as a team. If you think we are 100% where we need to be, you can play “British Bulldog”. If your team gets in the habit of picking “British Bulldog”, it’s time to have a talk with your captains, or better yet, have your captains run gassers while everyone else plays “British Bulldog”.

“Not Good Enough” Okay, so this isn’t for High School coaches or coaches in a league that allows cutting players, or if you are in the practice of not playing kids who can’t cut the mustard. For the rest of us with MPP rules or believe that everyone should at least have the opportunity to earn playing time through effort, we sometimes run into “Not Good Enough”. This one is 100% on us coaches. This starts with putting kids in a position where they have the best chance of succeeding. I’ve seen a ton of teams where they put the smallest kid on the team at safety or cornerback. I think the motivation behind this comes from coaches watching the NFL and deciding that since NFL defensive tackles are big, then youth defensive tackles are big as well. In reality, Tiny Tim has a much better chance of making a tackle while bear-crawling a gap (if nothing else, the ball carrier might trip over him) than fighting off a lead blocker or two and making a TD-saving tackle in the open field. Once you’ve placed that kid, the hard work starts in giving him the tools needed to succeed, then giving him the reps needed with those tools.

I’ve been on a lot of guys’ practice fields. You see some kid making the same fundamental mistake or blowing his assignment over and over. At some point, the coach will say “I told him a million times . . .” In most cases, you probably should have stopped telling him at 3.

Submitted by Larry Gombos

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