In the 2017–18 A League football competition, Sydney FC were the runaway leaders at the end of the league phase. Leading from Round 7, they lost just three times on their way to securing a home semi-final against the Melbourne Victory. The two teams have combined through their history to form a rivalry known as The Big Blue, their clashes a highlight of the Australian sporting calendar.
In the semi-final, the underdog Melbourne side took a 2–1 lead into added time as they looked to secure their first derby win in two years and atone for a Grand Final loss against the same opponents the year before. It was then, in the 95th minute, that Victory midfielder, Terry Antonis, steered the ball into his own net. The full-time whistle blew at 2–2.
Antonis recalled his thoughts in the moments before extra time began,
“I was devastated. That was the first ever own goal I’ve scored in professional football. To be honest, I can’t remember the team talk at all. I remember all the boys trying to pick me up but I was just emotionally gone. For two to three minutes I wasn’t there.” ¹
Antonis had little time to dwell on his mistake as his team returned to the field with their focus on atonement. As the crowd taunted him, Antonis’ thoughts sharpened, his agony replaced by perspective,
“I kept thinking about my family, my wife, everything we’ve been through to get here and especially the club and all the boys. We dug in deep and I couldn’t drop down, I had to keep going …” ²
In the 117th minute, Terry Antonis ran past three defenders and fired in the match winner.
Mistakes are momentary setbacks. On their own, they are not failures. We won’t all be able to recover from them as immediately and spectacularly as Terry Antonis. But, thankfully, we can all recover from them.
In the heat of the moment, when we’ve put the ball in the wrong net, our negative feelings increase exponentially compared to our ability to be present and deal with what has occurred. That’s natural and it’s all part of processing what’s going on. But, like Antonis whose thoughts turned to family and teammates, it’s important to make the next step one that provides context. Simple questions can help our mindset: how big a mistake is it? Have I made this mistake before? Have others? Would I forgive someone else if they made this mistake?
That last one is the key, we simply have to be more kind to ourselves.
Giving the error context is important in allowing us to move on — without context we’re likely to sit thinking, dwelling, ruminating on it. Nothing good can come from that. The answers to these questions will give us insight that allows us to move to the next step where we can think about how to solve, or rectify, or manage, our mistake.
Finding a solution is harder than making the mistake in the first place, and we need to acknowledge that. A mistake is subconscious, a lack of thought or a misjudgement in a single moment. Rectifying it has to be conscious, an action. Taking action can be hard and it might not be immediate but we can find tools that work for us in these moments.
The way we address our mistakes is strongly linked to our self-awareness and resilience, both of which require practice and active management. With this in mind, it’s not surprising that many of the approaches to positively dealing with a mistake are also positive measures we can take to proactively build resilience.
In his book, This Book Could Help (which I can’t recommend enough, to anyone), therapeutic counsellor and clinical supervisor Rotimi Akinsete writes,
“It’s during the bad times that we dig deep and use all our resources to cope with what’s coming at us.”
Most of the resources we have come from our own prior experience. While, in the moment, we will often dwell on a mistake, as we move on we should focus on how we dealt with it. That is the thing that should be added to our toolkit to be reused as and when required. Not all mistakes are equal, but dealing with them can be.
If you’re comfortable in acknowledging your error, and have someone you know will support you, then talking it out can be a huge help. This is also a useful tool if we’re struggling to give context to our mistake. A neutral perspective is something that is very hard to provide for ourselves.
Feelings of guilt and insecurity closely follow errors, and they can make discussing it with someone scarier than the fact we ever made the mistake. Whether it’s context or a solution we’re seeking, taking five can lead to perspective or solutions. Take a walk and give it some thought in the open air, or pick up another task to let our unconscious mind deal with it for a bit. Both options can shift our mindset just enough that we can deal with it more productively when we come back to it.
Making a mistake isn’t the end of something, it isn’t failure. It’s the start of a process that can make us more resilient, more self-aware, more successful.