How to Help Athletes Reset After a Mistake

In many sports, athletes spend more time between their ears (thinking) than they do playing. This reality can wreck havoc on an athlete after they make a mistake. Many beat themselves up, get down on themselves, and lose confidence. What they need is a reset routine – a systematic process to help athletes “let it go” after a mistake and keep their heads in the game.

Why Does One Mistake Lead to Another?

Several years ago I worked with a group of amateur competitive shooters. One issue they struggled with was letting go of mistakes. I noticed that when a shooter missed a target he was very likely to miss the next one or two targets following the miss.

As you might imagine, this was a big problem. Their brains were getting stuck on the initial missed target, taking focus away from the current one.

Coaches see this in their athletes all the time. Essentially what’s happening is that athletes (like the competitive shooters) are trying to analyze their mistakes while still trying to perform.

The results are not pretty. Repeated errors are all to common.

Athletes simply need to be taught how to reset their brains.

Athletes Need to Find Their Reset Button

Look at an athlete’s brain like a computer. When an app freezes, what do you do?

You might hit Command, Alt, Escape (mac) to analyze the problem. If the app isn’t responding you might “Force Quit” and then reboot the app.

When I was a kid, I remember using a similar process when my Nintendo froze. Get up, walk over to the console, and push “Reset.”

That’s basically what athletes need to learn to do.

How to Create a Reset Routine

Coaches want athletes to be resilient, bounce back, have short memories, and to let go of mistakes. For many this is easier said than done.

That’s why I want to share a simple but effective strategy with you – one you can teach to your athletes. With a little practice, they’ll be able to brush off mistakes and keep their heads in the game.

It’s called a Reset Routine. Here is how it works:

1. Analyze. After the play is over (that part is critical) the athlete should analyze what happened. This should be quick, factual, and focused on what he or she can control.

Encourage athletes to ask themselves 3 questions:

  • What went wrong? Stick to the facts and focus on tactics or technique that are under the athlete’s control.
  • Can I fix it now or does it need to wait until later? Some things can be changed during a competition while others need to wait until practice.
  • If I can fix it now, what adjustment do I need to make? Answers to this question should be short, simple, and doable in the time allowed.

2. Reset. This is the key transition – when an athlete turns his or her eyes from the rear view mirror and back on the road ahead.

There are a few techniques that help facilitate this transition.

  • Take a deep breath (using diaphragmatic breathing). This taps into the body’s nervous system to shift from stressed (focused on the mistake) to engaged (focused on the present moment).
  • Tense and release muscles. This physical process helps some athletes to release excess muscle tension that may have accompanied the stress of the error. Excess muscle tension can inhibit performance and cause further mistakes so it is best to release it now.
  • Identify the W.I.N. (What’s Important Now).  Now that athletes have dealt with the mistake and reset their physiology, it is time to get their heads back into the game. W.I.N. is where an athlete’s focus needs to be for the next play, at bat, or serve.

3. Trigger. Finally, the athlete uses a trigger word or movement to get his or her mind and body locked in.

  • Use a focus trigger like a body movement or self-talk to get locked in on the focal point (WIN). A trigger is simply a signal to the mind and body of what is about to happen and the athlete’s intentions in that moment.

These steps can easily be done between plays, serves, or pitches. The point is that athletes address the mistake and get focused for the next play.

Free Download

To help your athletes create their own Reset Routine, I created this PDF poster “Your 3 Step Reset Routine.” Share it with your team and hang it up in your locker room.

Reset Routines Keep Athlete’s In the Game

Telling an athlete to “let it go” only helps if he or she knows how to do that. Consistently using a reset routine will increase focus, sustain confidence, and reduce mental mistakes. Teach your athletes these 3 simple steps to create a Reset Routine they can use again and again.


Question: What makes it hard for athletes to let mistakes go? Share your thoughts in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.



Please note: I encourage reader discussion, however, I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.

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