Micromistakes are the tiny ones only the camera can see. They fascinate the biomechanical buffs. If you’re into that too, then get wired up, get your coach on the easy end of a video camera, and establish the range of miniperformances within which you must work if you are to end up on the awards podium. If you operate within the micromistake range most of the time, you’ll probably come home with a bagful of medals. The days that you don’t, it will be someone else’s turn to win. If you’re not at this end of the sport spectrum, or they’re not relevant to your sport, ignore these mistakes.
Minimistakes are the next size up from micromistakes. They are still very high-quality bungles and will only be in the cards for pretty sophisticated performers. How much of a performance is devoted to them will depend on your skill level and the success of your mistakes-management strategies.
By engineering standards, the physical tolerances of even the most accurate sporting performance are quite broad. The eye that judges them need not be particularly acute to detect differences of skill. Individuals generally operate within quite roomy comfort zones with any number of fail-safe systems in place to preserve their tenure. This all adds up to having quite a lot of latitude in which to make minimistakes on all fronts without necessarily compromising the performance at all.
Having said that, at elite levels too many minimistakes will probably keep you off the awards podium, although they may still go unnoticed by all but the expert eye. At subelite levels, whether or not you pay attention to them and try to correct them will depend on the quality of your training and whether you’re going for the big stuff later. The winning performance, therefore, is not the one without mistakes but the one with the least number of mistakes that matter at that level.
A nice by-product of almost any skill is that it’s pleasing both to watch and to perform. Whether it is in the magic lines of a javelin thrower, the grace of a gymnast, or the rhythmic power of a football player, the skilled movement of the human body is something we enjoy immensely. None of these performances need be at all compromised by the smaller mistakes in them (even if you or your coach notice them) unless somebody else notices them too. If they don’t, you have successfully created the illusion of perfection.
Maximistakes are the errors that really matter. These are the ones that intrude unpleasantly on our efforts, the bloopers and blunders and everyday errors of life. We can’t help but notice these and wish we hadn’t made them. In the grand scheme of things we’ve already been making a fistful of less spectacular mistakes, although they have not necessarily had a dramatic effect on our performance. But suddenly we’re in trouble. Or so it seems. Perhaps the writing has been on the proverbial wall for quite a while, but we were just too busy performing to see it. Usually there’s nothing really sudden about these maximistakes other than our waking up to them.
Maximistakes are not unannounced disasters. They are clear indications that we’ve missed the warning signs of trouble. If we can repackage them, then we can begin to make use of them. We can redefine them as less a mistake and more as a signpost from which to backtrack on our progress and pick up on those minimistakes we previously missed. We can use them to realign our performance and choose training programs that are better tailored to helping us reach our competition goals. In this way, although maximistakes are uncomfortable, they need not feel like catastrophes.
Megamistakes are the calamities of consequence. This is where your hopes and dreams come seriously unstuck. If they’re caused by equipment failure, you can usually find the necessary adjectives and move on. If they’re sitting fairly at your own feet, then that becomes a lot more challenging. Megamistakes do not compromise a performance - they usually conclude it. As with all other errors, of course, you must get to the bottom of why they happened if you want to avoid repeating them. It’s especially important to do this with these monsters, as they have an unreasonable potential to destroy confidence on all sides, and confidence, as we all know, is the glue that sticks everything together. The main cause of megamistakes is insufficient preparation for the task, and they are always a warning that serious maximistakes have been overlooked.
A word here about the curious tendency of mistakes to snowball. They tend not to stay one size but to grow gradually over time. If you don’t pick up on them early, they often quietly and remorselessly gather momentum until they burst into your life and you are forced to acknowledge their presence. Minimistakes often grow into maxies over time, and it’s not a pretty picture. The thing is to get to them early. The more that things go wrong, the more you need to look to the fundamentals of your skills and the less you should focus on the high-quality details. It’s in the fundamentals that you’ll find the cause of your mistakes. Early corrections that were misinterpreted, first principles that were misunderstood, foundation skills that were not sufficiently cemented before the next story was built on them—these are what cause real trouble later on, when you had long forgotten any original difficulties you may have had learning new skills or getting your head around new ideas. For years you may have assumed that your skills were rock solid. Perhaps they were, but so may your mistakes have been, carefully embedded in your early work. So take care and notice with an uncompromising eye for detail the size and quality of your mistakes. Then ask yourself...
• Would I like my performance to improve by 10%?
• Are my mistakes getting in the way of winning?
• Are my mistakes undermining my confidence?
• Have my mistakes already caused me—or do they have the potential to cause me—injury?
If the answer to any of these is yes, then you have a strong case for better mistakes management, beginning with plan A. Establish an overview of your current mistakesmanagement plan by doing the following:
• Identify the size of your mistakes.
• Decide which ones you can tolerate (this depends on the standard you want to reach).
• Decide which ones you need to manage.
• Establish how often you’re making these mistakes.
• Keep this overview of your performance to compare with later ones.
Plan B may be one of the following:
• Reread chapters 1 and 2 until you can commit to action.
• Do nothing.
• Give this book away and continue making mistakes that spoil your show.
We’ll assume you’ve taken the positive, proactive path here. You’ve now discovered that the most important thing to know about mistakes is that they are absolutely inevitable, and that they come in different sizes. You’re close to accepting that you can’t get through life without making them. So rather than trying to exclude them from your training, you’re now resigned to include them and to quickly get good at making the best of them. Let’s see what you can do.