Why You Shouldn’t Be Afraid of Making Mistakes

UPDATED: May 23, 2024
PUBLISHED: June 6, 2018

“If you’re not making mistakes, then you’re not doing anything. I’m positive that a doer makes mistakes.” Coach John Wooden


These two sentences become a mantra that sometimes pushes people beyond their fear.

In the book How to Be Like Coach Wooden by Pat Williams, Coach Wooden described why he was occasionally bothered if his players didn’t make enough mistakes in practice:

“I wanted my players to be active, I wanted them doing things and initiating. I didn’t want them worrying about mistakes. Mistakes made while expanding boundaries are what I wanted. If we weren’t making mistakes, we weren’t far enough out on the edge. If we weren’t pushing against the walls of our capabilities, we weren’t practicing properly. The time to cut down on turnovers is during games, not during practice.”

In his book Wooden on Leadership with Steve Jamison, Coach described how this attitude applies to leadership and business:

“A basketball team that won’t risk mistakes will not outscore opponents. The same is true for any organization. Fouls, errors and mistakes are part of the competitive process in sports, business and elsewhere. Don’t live in fear of making a mistake.

“In sports, action often must be taken instantaneously to capitalize on an opportunity. In every organization, time is of the essence when opportunity knocks.

“Hesitancy, indecisiveness, vacillation and fear of failure are not characteristics I associate with good leadership.

“A leader must have Initiative—the courage to make decisions, to act, and the willingness and strength to risk failure and take a stand even when it goes against the opinion of others.”

“Mistakes come from doing, but so does success.” –Coach John Wooden



Coach Wooden believed that the person who is afraid to risk failure seldom has to face success, and that the only real failure is the failure to act when action is required.

In Wooden On Leadership, Coach described this basic principle:

“I told our team many times: ‘Be quick, but don’t hurry.’ By that, I meant to make a decision, take action, decide what you’re going to do and do it.

“Failure to act is often the biggest failure of all. Initiate quickly but not carelessly or in a hurried manner that makes a miscue more likely. I applied this same advice to my own actions. Do not be afraid of mistakes, even of failure.

In his book Wooden: A Lifetime of Observations On and Off The Court with Steve Jamison, Coach described his approach when decisions didn’t work out:

“You can always look back and see where you might have done something differently, changed this or that. If you can learn something, fine, but never second-guess yourself. It’s wasted effort. If I put a substitution in during a game at UCLA and he immediately makes a mistake, was my decision wrong? Absolutely not.

“It just didn’t work out. That was the decision I made based on past experience and without emotionalism. I made it with reason, but it just didn’t work out. Things don’t always work out. It’s also true in life. Does worrying about it, complaining about it, change it? Nope, it just wastes your time.”

Focus on preparation; take action and no self-recrimination when the results aren’t to your satisfaction.


“If we allow the fear of failure to keep us from acting, we will never reach our full potential.” –Coach John Wooden

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

Craig Impelman

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, www.woodenswisdom.com. He is a motivational speaker and the author of Wooden’s Wisdom, a weekly “e-coaching module” that is distributed to companies nationally.