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How we learn from mistakes matters

Florida State's 29-game win streak came crashing down on Thursday night. Many people thought that the defending national champions had no business being in the playoff at all. In light of TCU's performance in their bowl game (a 42-3 smashing of Ole Miss) and FSU's collapse against Oregon, their case was made for them.

I'm not one of those people. I think they deserved to be there as much as, if not more than, the other participants that all suffered a regular season defeat. I'm from the old school that you have to knock the champion out to win the belt, and, well, Oregon did just that, bringing FSU to its knees. They didn't just beat them; they embarrassed them. The defending national champs who had been called "unflappable" earlier in the week, fell to pieces with four fumbles and an interception and in just less than 13 minutes allowed the Ducks to extend their score from 25-20, to 59-20 – the first time in 101 games that someone had scored 50 points in the Granddaddy of Them All, the Rose Bowl.

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I'm not a Jameis Winston fan, but I grew to respect him as he continued to lead the Seminoles despite setback after setback, most of which weren't his fault. He matched his Heisman-trophy caliber numbers with this year's recipient, Marcus Mariota, but his teammates let him down. He was the first one to the side of freshman Dalvin Cook when he fumbled – not once but twice – stifling any chance of mounting a comeback. Winston could be seen walking off the field with Cook, arm around him and providing encouraging words.

But then he made the play of the day, one that will be shown on bowl highlights for many years to come. Winston scrambled away from trouble, only to slip and flip the ball into the hands of Oregon's Tony Washington who rumbled 53 yards for the score, sealing the deal on their trip to the national championship.

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The unsportsmanlike behavior of the majority of the Seminoles players after the game – their first loss in 30 games – is a topic for another column.

Mistakes are a big part of the learning process in sports and in life. The people who continue to make the same mistakes over and over again border on the insane. Those who learn from their mistakes and grow accordingly as a player, as a teammate, or even as a person, will have a more successful and enjoyable experience.

As a coach, determining when to step in and help your player to either prevent the mistake or to learn from it can be a tough balance. You can coach them on a certain situation or a certain play until you're blue in the face, but until the player is in that situation and makes the decision that will either lead to success or failure, real learning can't begin.

Each sport is different in how a coach can make an impact during a game. Some sports allow for timeouts that you can go over every potential scenario that your team could face in the coming moments. One of the things I love most about soccer is that there is no chance to call a timeout, no chance to influence the play. The players have to tap in to their experiences from practice, their knowledge from prior game situations, and apply it to the current situation with lightning-quick speed.

I've been involved with teams where mistakes were punished by removal from the game or a loss of playing time and everyone on the team was scared to make a mistake, making for an uptight environment where no one is comfortable taking a chance for fear of making a mistake.

I have my pet peeves about mistakes but most of them are mental issues (a winger being offsides) than about making the wrong decision. I prefer to keep an atmosphere on our team where players are encouraged to try new things without fear of being yanked for making a mistake. Just a personal preference I enjoyed as a player and now try to create as a coach.

Without mistakes, there is little room for growth in a player or an individual. One of the famous Michael Jordan quotes that has been shared countless times goes, "I've missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed."

If MJ can be comfortable using his mistakes to make him better, than the average athlete, and certainly Jameis Winston and the Florida State Seminoles can easily do the same.

Reach Robert "Bird" Brown at 410-857-8552 or robert.brown@carrollcountytimes.com.

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