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The psychology of “managing mistakes”: some implications for coaches and managers

David Piggott (Lecturer in Sports Coaching and Exercise Science, University of Lincoln, Lincoln, UK.)

Development and Learning in Organizations

ISSN: 1477-7282

Article publication date: 27 June 2008




This paper has two main aims: first, to outline the importance of an understanding of psychological theories of learning for coaches and managers; and second, to delineate the practical implications of adopting either of the two psychological theories presented for coaches and managers.


The main theoretical insights in this paper are derived from the work of the renowned philosopher, Sir Karl Popper, and especially his caricature of learners as active “searchlights” as opposed to passive “buckets” (Popper). The basic tenets of the “searchlight” and “bucket” theories are illustrated with the assistance of analogies from coaching football (soccer) and an argument is advanced in favor of adopting the former.


Following from the adoption of the searchlight theory of learning, the paper argues that managers and coaches should work to create environments that foster and support learning. In such an environment, people are treated as creative problem solvers and errors or mistakes are regarded as important learning events.

Practical implications

In conclusion it is argued that knowledge can only grow in organizations where mistakes are effectively managed rather than punished or ignored.


This paper advances important arguments from the field of epistemology about the nature of learning and the organisational environment. It will be of value to coaches and managers who are interested in how knowledge grows and who wish to foster this process in their organisations.



Piggott, D. (2008), "The psychology of “managing mistakes”: some implications for coaches and managers", Development and Learning in Organizations, Vol. 22 No. 4, pp. 20-23.



Emerald Group Publishing Limited

Copyright © 2008, Emerald Group Publishing Limited

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