Do These 4 Things When You Make a Mistake

UPDATED: October 18, 2023
PUBLISHED: April 11, 2018

A mistake is valuable if you do four things with it: recognize it, admit it, learn from it, forget it.

This quote from Coach Wooden is one of my favorites because it summarizes and gives instruction to some of his key ideas regarding how to deal with mistakes:

1. Recognize it.

Failure is not fatal, but failure to change might be.

2. Admit it.

You may make mistakes, but you are not a failure until you start blaming someone else.

3. Learn from it.

It’s always about focusing not on the mistakes, but on the lessons learned from them.
Never require repeated criticism for the same mistake.

4. Forget it.

Don’t let yesterday take up too much of today.
Don’t make a second mistake because you’re thinking about the first.

John Wooden took on his first coaching assignment in 1933. The opportunity was in Dayton, Kentucky, for the Dayton High School Green Devils football team.

In his book My Personal Best with Steve Jamison, Coach described that experience:

“The Green Devils football team had a big lumbering lineman who bullied other classmates and even teammates; he was the kind of player who did only as much as he wanted to do and no more. On a sweltering Kentucky afternoon during the first week of football practice, this young man decided he’d had enough of my whistle blowing, directions and drills. When I told him to get back to work, he challenged me. He stuck his chin right in my face and snarled, ‘You’re not man enough to make me do it.’ The whole team was watching us. I responded emotionally and without thinking, and I am very ashamed of what happened next—a brief but physical altercation. It was terrible behavior from someone trying hard to follow the examples of my coaching mentors. Even more, it went against my father’s teaching. One of his favorite quotes was from Abraham Lincoln: ‘Nothing is stronger than gentleness.’

“Now, as a brand-new coach—two weeks into the job—I had quickly lost my temper and stooped to violence. It troubled me very deeply. These days I’d be fired, rightfully, but on that hot humid afternoon, we just moved on and continued practice. I quickly came to understand I wasn’t a good football coach. The stubborn lineman, however, was not the reason, and I asked my predecessor, Willard Bass, to come back. As the weeks went along, I heard through the grapevine that whenever one of them gave him any trouble, Coach Bass would warn sternly, ‘Please don’t make me tell Johnny Wooden about this.’ He was kidding, of course, but I didn’t think it was very funny.”

Seems like Coach Wooden followed his own advice regarding this mistake. He recognized it, admitted it, learned from it and moved forward.

Related: 10 Mistakes Smart People Never Make Twice

This article originally appeared on and has been republished with permission.

As Coach Wooden’s grandson-in-law, Craig Impelman had the opportunity to learn Coach’s teachings firsthand and wrote about those lessons for his site, He is a motivational speaker and the author of Wooden’s Wisdom, a weekly “e-coaching module” that is distributed to companies nationally.