I Cost My Team a Chance to Win a Game

Jan 08, 2023

I cost my team a chance to win a game.

It’s one of the worst feelings I’ve experienced as a coach. 


We were up by 2 with 16 seconds left against the #2 team in our conference—a game we really wanted to win. 

They inbounded the ball and made a 3 pointer to go up by 1 with 8 seconds left.

I began frantically trying to use my last timeout to stop the clock!

I was so frantic that I ended up running past the end of the opposing team’s bench trying to get the referee's attention for a timeout, and the referee on the other side of the court gave me a technical foul for leaving my coach’s box.

I wasn’t even aware of where I was on the court…

I was just trying to get a timeout called to give my team a chance to win, but in the referee's defense, I probably deserved it because I left my coach’s box in the dust (the film clip of it is already a running joke with my colleagues).


Instead of having the ball with about 6.5 seconds left and being down 1 point with a chance to win, the other team got two free throws and the ball back.

They made the two free throws, we fouled them when they inbounded it, and they made two more.

We lost by 5.


My mistake cost us our only chance of winning the game at that point.


As soon as my players came over to our bench after they called the technical foul, I apologized. 

“Guys, I’m sorry, I just made a huge mistake and this one's on me.”

In the locker room after the game, and at the beginning of practice the next day, I said the same thing:

“I’m sorry, this one’s on me.”


It’s difficult to articulate how bad I felt in the moment when I realized my mistake, and how awful I felt for the next couple of days. 

I couldn’t stop replaying the moment in my mind. 

It was tough for me to swallow because I believe it’s my responsibility to put my team in the best possible position to win the game, but I failed to do that in that game.

In fact, my mistake cost my team a chance to win it.


As I’ve continued to reflect on my mistake, there have been 3 lessons about mistakes that I’ve been reminded of:


1. Own your mistakes

I screwed up—big time. 

As a leader, it’s critical that we’re quick to own our mistakes when (not if) we make them. 

It builds trust with our team, and it shows them that we’re human. 

I ask my players to be willing to own their mistakes when they make them, so I had to model it and do the same.


2. Moving on from mistakes is hard

I’m often encouraging, or trying to help, my players move on from mistakes.

But I can’t lie, sometimes it’s really, really hard to move on from a mistake. 

My mistake, and the difficulty I had trying to move on from it mentally over the next few days, gave me more empathy for my players that struggle to move past their mistakes. 

I’m an adult, with a fully developed brain (or at least I think it is, the film of me running down the court might cause some to disagree), and it was difficult for me to move on. 

Most of us are coaching young people, so it’s often even harder for them to move on well. 

We should be patient, empathetic, and understanding.


3. Mistakes are opportunities to learn

I’m constantly trying to get my players to view mistakes as opportunities to learn.

My mistake was an opportunity to practice what I preach. 

Here are the two things I learned form this mistake: 1) Don’t leave my coach’s box; 2) look at the referee across the court, not on the baseline, to try to get the timeout called in that situation.

Like we've all been told, sometimes you have to learn a lesson the hard way.


We'll all be better leaders and coaches if we remember these three things about mistakes:

  1. Own your mistakes
  2. Moving on from mistakes is hard
  3. Learn from your mistakes