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  • Writer's pictureAlyssa Zajdel, PhD

What Types of Mistakes Do Athletes Make and How Can They Learn from Them?

Athletes, from amateur to professional, are bound to make mistakes. Mistakes are an inevitable part of sports, whether it’s a missed shot, a failed strategy, or a lapse in focus. Understanding the types of mistakes athletes commonly make and learning how to work through them can be crucial for improvement and maintaining a positive mindset.


Here are some common mistakes athletes make and strategies for overcoming them:

1. Technical Mistakes

Technical mistakes involve errors in the execution of skills. These could be mechanical flaws in a golf swing, poor form in a gymnastics routine, or incorrect technique in a swimming stroke.

How to Work Through Them:

  • Seek Feedback: Regularly consult with coaches for constructive feedback on your technique.

  • Drills and Practice: Focus on specific drills that target the technical aspect you need to improve.

  • Video Analysis: Record your performance and review the footage to identify and correct mistakes.

  • Stay Patient: Technical adjustments can take time, so be patient and consistent with your practice.

2. Strategic Mistakes

Strategic mistakes occur when an athlete needs to make better decisions regarding game strategy. This might involve choosing the wrong play, misjudging an opponent’s move, or failing to adapt to changing game conditions.

How to Work Through Them:

  • Game Review: Analyze past games to understand where the strategy went wrong.

  • Scenario Planning: Practice different scenarios in training to improve decision-making under pressure.

  • Mentorship: Learn from more experienced athletes or coaches who can provide insights on better strategic choices.

  • Mental Rehearsal: Visualize different game situations and the optimal strategies for handling them.

3. Mental Mistakes

Mental mistakes involve lapses in concentration, negative self-talk, or succumbing to pressure. These mistakes can lead to unforced errors and decreased performance.

How to Work Through Them:

  • Mindfulness Training: Practice mindfulness techniques to improve focus and reduce stress.

  • Positive Self-Talk: Develop a habit of using positive affirmations to boost confidence and resilience.

  • Pre-Performance Routines: Establish routines that help you reach the right mental state before competition.

  • Mental Skills Training: Work with a sport psychologist to develop mental skills such as visualization, goal setting, and stress management.

4. Physical Mistakes

Physical mistakes are often related to conditioning, such as fatigue, lack of strength, or poor nutrition. These mistakes can result in injury or decreased performance.

How to Work Through Them:

  • Conditioning Programs: Follow a well-rounded conditioning program with strength, endurance, and flexibility training.

  • Recovery: Prioritize rest and recovery to prevent overtraining and injury.

  • Nutrition: Maintain a balanced diet that supports your training and competition needs.

  • Listen to Your Body: Pay attention to signs of fatigue or discomfort and adjust your training accordingly.

5. Tactical Mistakes

Tactical mistakes involve errors in the application of techniques and strategies during competition. This might include misjudging the timing of a move or failing to execute a planned tactic effectively.

How to Work Through Them:

  • Simulated Competitions: Practice in settings that mimic real competition to improve tactical execution.

  • Coach Guidance: Work closely with coaches to refine your tactics and understand the best approaches for different situations.

  • Peer Learning: Collaborate with teammates to share insights and tactics.

  • Adaptability Training: Develop the ability to adapt tactics on the fly based on the evolving context of the game.

6. Emotional Mistakes

Emotional mistakes happen when an athlete allows emotions like frustration, anger, or anxiety to impact performance. These emotions can lead to rash decisions and loss of composure.

How to Work Through Them:

  • Emotional Regulation: Learn techniques to manage emotions, such as deep breathing, visualization, and grounding exercises.

  • Reflective Practice: Reflect on emotional responses and identify triggers after the competition.

  • Support Systems: Lean on coaches, teammates, and sport psychologists for emotional support and guidance.

  • Goal Setting: Set realistic and manageable goals to maintain motivation and perspective.


Mistakes are a natural part of athletic performance and growth. By understanding the different types of mistakes and implementing strategies to work through them, athletes can improve their skills, enhance their mental toughness, and achieve their full potential.

Remember, the key to overcoming mistakes is to view them as opportunities for learning and development rather than setbacks. With the right mindset and support, every athlete can turn mistakes into stepping stones towards success.

If you tend to get stuck in your mistakes rather than learning from them, working with a sport psychologist can turn errors into strengths. Use the button below to get started.


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