Failure is a curse word to most athletes and most people alike. We, as a culture, stress ourselves do it bigger/better/faster/and stronger than our peers or we become labeled as “less able”. Fail a test in school = can’t get into a good college = work at local 24 hour diner serving refried beans and canned corn.
Failure in sports is no different.
Most of my athletes can not even say the word “fail” without getting queazy. It brings up emotion like no other word that I can think of and is the very reason that many of you are not reaching the goals that you set out for yourself. The last thing that we, as athletes, want is to be yelled at by our coach for failing to complete a skill. We can’t bear failing to make the team because our parents will think that their hard earned money and time was wasted. We can’t even stand the chance of failing to execute the same as our peers, because he/she would never want to hang out with anyone that just is “not that good”.
The stresses to succeed are what drives us every day, and can be the very thing that gives us the edge to achieve any goal. I see those stresses becoming apparent at earlier and earlier ages…even my 10 year old soccer athletes fear the wrath of their coach, when they do not fulfill their wants. I blame the coaches and volatile environments that they create for this mess, but my job is to work with the athlete, so I will direct my attention to them.
It is not a boy or girl thing, a young thing or an old thing…but in my opinion, this is a mislabeled, unclear definition of competition-thing. When have you ever heard of a coach or parent talking to their child about what it means to compete? How can we demand our kids to do so if they have no idea what it means?
What would your training look like if you could play without those stresses to fail…to just play. Remember when you just played for the fun of it and did not care if you missed a play? Maybe not…
So when is it good to fail? When you are wanting to get better, to progress, to obtain a skill set that you do not already have. To gain confidence, to make the best decisions, or to revive the love for the game that you once had.
Michael Jordan realizes (even if it is after retiring) that all of the games lost, shots missed, and mistakes made were just a part of the process that allowed him to succeed. You can never have growth without giving yourself the Freedom To Fail. It is a concept that we have to allow in every training session.
In fact, I go as far as telling my young players that I want to see them fail. I want to see the player being so aggressive to make changes in their training that they experiment with the best way to make the skill happen in every scenario. This will allow the ease of translating the skill to competition much more effective and give you the ability to make the best decision, not a decision to avoid failure. We are not asking player’s to be ok and accept the failure as permanent, but to see it as the ultimate guide, a secondary teacher of how to make the necessary changes to progression.
I challenge you as a player to give yourself the freedom to fail in your training. Make the mistakes in practice so that you are familiar with how to fix a mistake when it happens, not if it happens. Play to make the best decision, and then you will help your team to success.
If you are a coach, I challenge you to understand this concept and develop an environment that gives this freedom. It is not enough to assume that your players know this concept….Make it known that you are giving them freedom in training by communicating it CLEARLY to them. Allow them to relax and succeed, and you will see results.
Best of Luck,