Sorry is such a strange word. We use it to convey dismay, sympathy, regret and so much more, but I’ve noticed a startling trend among the the girls I help coach. They’ve been using it in a completely different way: shame. They say sorry as a way of admitting that they are ashamed of something they did — a bad throw or a dropped disc — and they immediately express this shame to themselves and their teammates.
I habitually used the word “sorry” throughout my college and club years. If I made a mistake, I knew I had to admit that I was ashamed of what I did so that everyone on my team knew that I would try and do better next time. I especially claimed defeat on a bad throw, thinking I should have know better than to loft up a hammer into the wind. I found comfort in the word sorry, but knew that I never felt quite right after saying it, especially at practice. We’re supposed to make mistakes at practice because that’s how we learn what we’re capable of when it comes to game time. So what if I throw a hammer into the wind and it’s knocked down by the defense? Now I know that is a risky throw. I shouldn’t be sorry — but I am.
After all, I rarely heard it from my male counterparts, especially at practice or league. Ridiculous 50-50 throw to a double teamed receiver while there’s someone completely wide open coming under? They just shook it off. Completely forgetting the force? Eh…next time. Meanwhile the first word out of my mouth always seemed to be “sorry”. “Sorry about not throwing to you earlier.” “Sorry about that pass being a little behind you.” “Sorry my dump cut wasn’t exactly where you needed it.” My teammates would hear these and simply shrug. “You’re fine, don’t worry about it.” Meanwhile I was still ashamed of not being perfect.
That’s the thing about sorry. We shouldn’t be saying it. Yeah, there are moments where we can use the word “sorry” for things like accidentally tripping someone or even punching them in the face on the follow through of a big huck. We should never be saying sorry for a mistake that we make — it happens. It does not merit the word sorry.
Sorry is such a defeatist word and women especially use it all the time. I’ve heard the word sorry on every team I’ve coached, from college teams, to club teams, to youth teams. We don’t need to be so apologetic for the choices we make, whether it’s on or off the field. We should be taking risks, experimenting with what works and what doesn’t. “Sorry” puts up this wall that stops us from playing to our potential and therefore stops us from playing our best.
So how do we change this word? How do we remove “sorry” from our repertoire? There are a couple of ways I’ve learned from some amazing coaches over the years. One is to replace it. Say “yogurt” or “balls” (the latter being my favorite, but not the best for youth players). The other is to use positive reinforcement. When someone feels they have made a mistake, have them shout “I’m a star!” (perhaps even having them do a star jump in the process), and get their teammates to respond “Yes you are!” Feels pretty great, right?
So if you happen to be out playing ultimate and start to say “sorry”, think twice. If you hear it from another player, tell them they don’t need to say it. We can all use a little boost of confidence. Instead of shame, celebrate mistakes and then learn from them. Don’t be sorry, be a star.