“When people talk about my free kicks they focus on the goals. But when I think about free kicks I think about all those failures. It took tons of misses before I got it right.”
During his career David Beckham was one of the best dead ball specialists in the world.
His 30 yard free kick that scraped a 2-2- draw with Greece took England to the 2002 FIFA World Cup Finals, or two expertly delivered corners that helped Manchester United win the European Cup were the perhaps the best examples of this ability.
However his ability to score or create from a dead ball situation outside the penalty box made the difference for England, Manchester United, Real Madrid and LA Galaxy on hundreds of occasions.
But rather than focus on the goals or assists, Beckham was aware of the failures. The misses during matches or in training were what made him great. He was able to learn from his mistakes and make himself better.
The theme of learning from mistakes is core to Matthew Syed’s excellent new book Black Box Thinking.
Syed promotes the fact that failure is core to success.
His view is that failure shouldn’t be swept under the carpet to avoid humiliation and embarrassment. Rather, it should be seen as a way to improve an individual, company or system.
This philosophy is closely aligned with the Top Flight Football perspective. Failure and mistakes are learning opportunities. It is essential that young players are encouraged to recognise that adversity is part of the development process and is fundamental to improvement.
Syed focuses heavily on the approach to air travel and how the airline industry has dramatically improved safety standards through investigation. He compares this attitude to the health system that, for various reasons, does not assess errors in process or procedure in a similar way.
However learnings from the book can be applied to many environments including the successful development of young footballers.
The desire to try, fail, learn and then do it again is what will make a young player better. Success doesn’t just happen. It is built on countless hours of practice and failure until a skill is mastered.
As a child Beckham started learning to juggle a football when he was 6 years old in the backyard of his London home. At the start he could do just 4 or 5. After 6 months of practicing he could get up to 50, then 6 months later, 200. By the time he was 9 he cracked the 2000 mark and decided that he had mastered the skill.
It was then that he moved on to practicing free kicks. His father, Ted Beckham, would take him to his local park.
“He must have taken more than 50,000 free kicks at that park. He had an incredible appetite.”
Late in is career Beckham was still working hard on his game. When Syed interviewed him for Black Box Thinking, he had just spent an extra two hours after Paris St Germain training practicing free kicks.
That Beckham strived to get better even after winning the Premier League (6 times), UEFA Champions League and La Liga titles is testament to his ability to embrace failure and constantly learn.
The fastest way to improve is to face up to failure and learn from it.
Understanding how to juggle the ball as a 6 year old – taking it from 5 touches to 10 before the ball hits the ground – to improving the accuracy of free kicks as an elite professional footballer late in your career, the attitude is the same. Resilience in the face of failure accelerates learning outcomes.
Share this Post