Failure Can Be a Gift...If You Have the Proper Mindset

adversity failure learning mindset motivation parenting resilience Dec 16, 2019

My daughter failed last week. She applied to attend an art field trip where they were only taking two kids in her 5th grade class. She loves art, is extremely creative, and an excellent writer, so she was devastated (for a 10-yr old!) when she was not selected. 

You never want to see your kid upset when they fail to achieve something they wanted badly, but in a way I was actually happy she was not selected. And it made me reflect on how I wish she would “fail” in a comparable way in sports sooner rather than later.

Why would I feel this way? Because sometimes failure can be an invaluable gift if we have the right mindset. In fact, failure can be the spark that ignites your inner fire and unlocks the greatest version of yourself. 

When I talked with my wife about my daughter’s art application, she said my daughter essentially mailed it in with minimal effort. She’s a great writer for someone her age, yet her she did the bare minimum when it came to her essay - no passion, no detail, nothing exciting. The good news is that both her mother and I think she learned a valuable lesson from this. She knows she missed out on a cool opportunity, and more importantly, that her effort contributed to this failure. 

But what if she got accepted to go on this trip despite her poor effort? She would’ve received what she wanted without working hard for it. She would’ve been a worse artist for it. And if this continued for a long period of time, she could go on forever without ever realizing her true potential.

Now consider this phenomena in sports, particularly in an era where every child gets a trophy. If my daughter, who plays soccer, gets opportunities to play on her team in spite of her only doing the bare minimum, she will equate that effort with that her detriment. 

I know of a boy soccer player around my daughter’s age who recently got demoted to play on the B team in a highly competitive soccer academy. Truth be told, he was a good player, but as the team began winning more tournaments, it attracted better players to come play for them. When the team formed, he was one of the top players, but he slid down the depth chart when more talent arrived. Worse, he displayed a poor work ethic - going half-speed in drills, complaining on the sidelines, exhibiting poor body language, and clearly failed to give maximum effort in the end-of-practice conditioning drills. In some cases, he would even sit out the conditioning drills due to some reason or another. 

Then the coach made the decision to split the team, and this player was put on the B team. Now as we all know, there are two ways to respond - you can either feel sorry for yourself and blame others (see last week’s blog post!) or you can dust yourself off, dedicate yourself to getting better, and do what needs to be done in order to get back on the A squad. 

Thankfully, this player chose the latter. His mindset about practice and conditioning changed. Not only is he putting in max effort during his normal training sessions, but he’s putting in extra work outside of practice in order to improve. You can tell his passion for the game has re-ignited, and he is no longer taking anything for granted. He may not be put back on the A squad immediately - heck, he may never get back on the A squad, but I guarantee he will be a better soccer player due to the work he’s putting in. And he can sleep soundly at night knowing he’s doing everything in his power to improve. No regrets. 

So what should players do? First, it is perfectly fine to be upset and disappointed in your failure. If you don’t hurt, you probably don’t care enough. But after a certain amount of time, reframe that failure into a learning lesson. I love the phrase: “I’m undefeated. I either win or learn.” Don’t feel sorry for yourself. Identify what went wrong and dedicate yourself to fixing it. 

What should parents do? Allow your child to grieve for a period of time. When they’re ready, help your athlete reframe the failure into motivation for the future. Do not let your child blame others and by all means, do not buy into that type of excuse-making and call coaches or administrators. Instead, put the ball in your child’s court - tell them the decision is up to them. How will they respond? 

Remember, failing early may not be a bad thing. In fact, it might be the best thing to happen and something that can dramatically alter the course of their career...and their life...for the better.


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