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How to Combat an Excuse Mentality

By TrueSport, 01/10/19, 4:30PM CST


Athletes with an excuse mentality fear negative outcomes and make excuses to avoid responsibility. According to Patrick Cohn, PhD, sports psychologist and founder of Peak Performance Sports, an excuse mentality results from allowing circumstances to dictate your actions instead of taking control of them.

The effects of an athlete with an excuse mentality can ripple throughout a team and disrupt the dynamics between teammates. Keeping the team accountable to one another is key in teaching athletes how to take responsibility and avoid the trap of making excuses.

Here are four practical tips for combating the excuse mentality on your team:


Focus on Strengths

To encourage athletes to take responsibility, Dr. Cohn recommends focusing on their strengths.

“Focusing on strengths will help you see what you can do, right now, to turn things around instead of getting stuck on what has already happened,” he says.

For example, when a basketball player is struggling to make baskets, help them focus on making great passes instead of making excuses about it being tough to score.


Reduce Anxiety Around Mistakes

Mistakes are part of playing sports, but an athlete’s response to mistakes has a big effect on long-term success.

If coaches and parents create an environment that punishes or humiliates athletes for making mistakes, athletes experience anxiety and begin to avoid negative responses to their actions. Their anxiety leads to them to deny responsibility for mistakes they make and blame someone or something else instead.

In a supportive environment, mistakes are viewed as necessary steps toward improved performance. This gives athletes the confidence to test their abilities, take chances, and push their limits.

To reduce anxiety, Frank Smoll, PhD, a sport psychologist at the University of Washington, recommends correcting mistakes with a “sandwich approach.” Start by praising something the athlete did well and finish with a positive statement. In the middle, provide instructions on how to correct the mistake.

For example, coaches can say, “You showed great hustle. Keep your hands up on defense to make yourself bigger so it’s harder for the offensive player to pass the ball. You’ll have it down in no time with a little more practice.”


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TrueSport® is a grassroots movement born and powered by the experience and values of USADA–the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency. The TrueSport® mission is simple and bold: to change the culture of youth sport by providing powerful educational tools to equip young athletes with the resources to build the life skills and core values for lasting success on and off the field.

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