Teach Your Child to Fail

November 07, 2017
Categories: Parenting

You can cut the tension with a knife! The energy in the gym is at OVERLOAD!!! On the floor ten exhausted, battle-ridden warriors lean over as their hands prop them up at the knee. Six of them stand shoulder to shoulder on both sides of the free-throw lane. Three others take a position near the half-court line. But all eyes in the gym are on just one player. This player stands at the free throw line with a basketball in hand.

A glance at the scoreboard reveals a one point deficit and one second left to play. The player with the ball is tasked with erasing the deficit. Make one and the game is tied; make two and the game is over. This is the kind of pressure that defines a player. By the way, the player on the free throw line is YOUR child.

Like all good players, there is a free-throw routine. Spin the ball once...bounce the ball twice...put the ball in shooting position...bend your knees...launch it toward the basket...and follow-through. In the 2.5 seconds it takes for the ball to reach the basket, the silence is deafening. Clang! Off the backside of the rim. Miss! Your heart sinks as you battle to keep your head from dropping.

“It’s alright, you reason with yourself. “The teams will settle this in overtime...IF we make this next free-throw.” 

Your child turns to the stands, hoping to glean a look of confidence from you. You can see the tension on their face. You would give anything to take the pressure away. Heck, if they would let you, you would shoot the ball for them. You applaud as if no one else is in the gym and assure them with the best, “You got this!” expression you can offer. They turn to face the basket as the referee hands them the ball.

Engage the routine. As your child begins their routine, you stand on the hope that the mental conversations they are having inside their head is positioning them to proceed with confidence and boldness; not fear and cowardice. Spin the ball once...bounce the ball twice...put the ball in shooting position...bend your knees...launch it toward the basket...and follow-through.

Clank! Clang! Off the side of the rim...miss…other team rebounds. Game over.

What do you do? That is easy: You teach them how to fail!

 Author and speaker, John Maxwell shares, “The difference between average people and achieving people is their perception of and response to failure.” If we want our children to be successful in sports and most importantly, life, we must teach to have a healthy perspective of failure." The secret sauce is learning how the fail and fail fast. The idea here is that a healthy perspective positions each failure as a learning experience. Henry Ford once proclaimed, “Failure is the opportunity to try again, more intelligently.” We have to re-define failure as an outcome we did not expect, earn from that experience and try again with new wisdom.

So what does this “healthy perspective” look like? Let’s use the word FAIL as our guideline:

Face the Music”: While there are various suggestions as to the origin of this phrase, there is clear agreement as to it’s meaning. To “face the music” means to own your actions. When our kids experience a setback, we MUST lead them away from the temptation to make excuses and blame others. They need to own their contribution (or lack there of) of the misfortunate outcome. It cannot be the referee’s fault, the coach’s fault or a teammate’s fault. Teach them to own it and identify what changes they need to make.

Accept the Likelihood of Failure: Remember when you learned to ride a bicycle? How many times did you fall? My guess is “too many to count.” It would be unrealistic to think anyone could learn a new skill without failure. Failure is part of the success formula. We need not waste our energy and concentration on trying to avoid it. Teach your athlete to embrace failure, identify what needs to change and then make adjustments as needed. In other words, fail as fast as you can.

Insist on Never Quitting: Regardless of the task, what we do everyday will determine our level of success. When we experience a setback, we tend to want to quit and everyday becomes every-other-day, then every week and, eventually, we quit. Every person has a self-imposed “quitting point.” It is the moment we decide the reward of success is less than the effort required to try again. So we quit. Many believe success waits for the person who holds on just one second longer than the others. Your athlete needs a “never quit” mindset.

Lean into the Change: When we fail at a task, we can’t keep doing the same thing over and over and expect a different result. Some say that is the definition of insanity. If we embrace failure as the signal to make adjustments and change what we are doing, we shorten the amount of time required to be successful. Help your athlete develop a learning mindset that leans into change and position themselves to be successful with their craft.

It is a fact of life: all of us will experience failure in our lives. What defines us is how we respond. As parents of athletes, we are privileged to have our own personalize training ground. The arena of competition will give our children ample opportunities to experience failure and setbacks. It our role to help them navigate those moments by owning their part, responding appropriately, never quitting and making adjustments. While failure is status quo for any athlete, how they respond is what sets them apart. Help them fail and you will teach them a lesson they can carry for the rest of their life.


a guest post from Dwayne Morris


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