Redefining failure

Written by Laurie McGinley and Richard Cashman

As a youth sports coach or parent, it is natural to want your child or team to succeed in every game or competition, but failure is an inevitable part of sports and life, and it is essential to redefine it and teach our youth players how to navigate through it. To effectively address failure and support young players, it is crucial to examine the various forms it can take and acquire practical strategies for managing it.

What is failure? 

Failure is a state or condition of not meeting a desired or expected outcome or result, and it can come in many different shapes and sizes.

Despite being an inevitable part of life, failure is often viewed as a negative experience that can leave many of us feeling defeated and demotivated.

By redefining our perspective and mindset towards failure, we can transform it into a positive and constructive experience that can fuel our player’s personal and professional growth.

Failure may stem from external factors, such as uncontrollable circumstances or competitive pressures, as well as internal factors, such as self-doubt, lack of motivation, or fear of failing.

When young players experience failure, it is an opportunity to teach them resilience, perseverance, and grit, which will not only help in sports but also in life. It is crucial to give young players the space to work through their struggles and challenges, and instead of jumping in and “saving” them from difficult situations, it is important to support young players and provide them with the right tools and resources to make sense of their experiences and move forward positively.

This could involve offering guidance or advice, but it should also involve encouraging them to reflect on their experiences and think critically about how they can improve in the future.

Nelson Mandela’s famous quote, “You win or you learn,” encapsulates the idea that there is value in both success and failure, and it is crucial to remember that failure is not a permanent state.

With the right mindset and approach, failure can lead to new perspectives, experiences, and opportunities for success. To transform our player’s attitudes and approach towards failure, we must redirect the attention from solely prioritising the end result to emphasising the process itself, where the outcome becomes a potential byproduct. Rather than fixating on the end goal, we should concentrate on the actions and steps taken to get there. This process-oriented perspective allows us to value the learning and growth that comes with the experience of failing, instead of only viewing it as a negative outcome. By embracing the journey and acknowledging that failure is an inevitable part of it, we can cultivate a mindset that is more resilient, adaptable, and open to new possibilities.

A robust support network can be instrumental in turning failure into a positive experience. Whether players are facing obstacles, conquering challenges, or taking responsibility for their actions, having dependable people around can make all the difference. Rather than allowing the young players to perceive failure as a reflection of their worth or potential, we can empower them to view it as a chance for self-reflection, education, and personal development. By adopting a growth mindset perspective, we can shape and influence their thinking to recognise that failure is a normal aspect of the learning process and that we can always improve and enhance our abilities.

In order to transform our and our players’ attitudes and mindset towards failure, we must shift our attention away from the outcome and towards the process. Rather than obsessing over the end result, as we have already mentioned, we can concentrate on the effort, progress, and education that occurs throughout the journey. We can create an environment where we take pride in our small victories and accomplishments, regardless of how minor they may appear, and use them as building blocks to achieve our ultimate objectives. The process of learning and growing through failure can result in more meaningful and long-lasting success. By learning from our failures, we become better equipped to face future challenges and setbacks, and we can confront them with a more resilient and adaptable attitude.

You may be wondering how this translates into practical terms. Is it possible to measure progress and growth when it’s so easy to equate outcomes with one’s capabilities and potential? By transforming failure into a self-improvement journey, coaches and players can work together to identify and monitor progress towards specific objectives and utilize failure to redefine them. This can be achieved in various ways, such as adopting an individual development plan approach both as a team and on an individual basis with each player.

This could also involve tracking changes in how young players perceive and respond to failure, such as shifting from a fear of making mistakes to a willingness to take risks and learn from them.

We can use failure to help define us as Michael Jordan quotes: “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.

There may be those who argue that redefining failure could promote a culture of averageness, where young players are content with simply trying their best, rather than striving for excellence by means of a “result.” They might say that we need to hold our young players to higher standards, which are often unrealistic and unattainable, regardless of the cost.

Although there is some validity to this viewpoint, it is essential to bear in mind that youth sports should be a positive and gratifying experience for all involved. It is vital to strike a balance between setting high standards and permitting room for failure and personal development. By prioritising the process, acknowledging effort, providing chances for growth, and instructing resilience and persistence, we can aid young players in coping with failure and eventually attaining age-appropriate long-term success with life-long participation in sports.

According to Jim Rohn, if you have a strong desire to accomplish something, you will discover a means to make it happen. Conversely, if you lack that desire, you will come up with justifications. Attempting and failing at something demonstrates that you made an effort, which is an accomplishment in itself.

Redefining failure as an opportunity for learning and growth can transform the way we perceive and approach setbacks in sports and life. By focusing on the process, celebrating effort, and using failure to identify and track progress towards specific goals, we can cultivate a growth mindset that fosters resilience, perseverance, and long-term success. Through this approach, we can help young players develop the skills and mindset they need to overcome challenges and achieve their full potential.

Thank you – Diolch yn fawr

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