After 8 years of working with athletes of all ages I have concluded that there isn’t enough failing taking place. Now this might sound strange to hear because of our insatiable need to always perform with perfection and excellence. Without a doubt the number one fear and driving force in the mind of many athletes is how their current performance is being seen by a parent or a coach. When this happens the athlete stops being aware of the environment around them and hyper focuses on the opinion and thoughts of the person they are trying to please. This critically injures their capacity to play decisively and aggressively because they are ultimately afraid of displeasing or disappointing their parent or coach. This type of environment stifles the athlete from taking the necessary risks that often result in development and growth.
Ideally, the athlete would be free to learn about what adjustments to make, and what skills need development by focusing on what the game teaches them, when to take a risk, when to hold back, when to stay still and when to move. They are not aware of these important cues when their focus is on pleasing the coach or a parent; they become frozen with fear that something they do will result in disappointment or punishment. Competition will teach the athlete if they are open to taking in what is there to learn and the environment rewards taking risks by communicating with the athlete about what they are trying to do and why. Often times the intention is right on but the execution is lacking. I was watching a soccer game recently and the young player had a really good intention but failed to execute the play. That moment could be used to learn that the skills needed to complete that play need work but the thought behind the play was good.
If you are an athlete that is hampered by a fear of failure I have some tips for you that will help you break free from this disabling state of mind:
1. Focus your attention on mastering your skills. These skills are what you will need to create greater competency in your sport and earn you more and more opportunity in competitive situations.
2. Evaluate yourself by your own set of standards. Determine what your goals are, work for them.
3. Take risks. Risk taking helps us increase our understanding of our abilities and helps us see where we need to work in order to improve. Without taking risks we will never reach our full potential.
4. For every “Failure” there is a potential positive outcome. If you are successful with the risk then there is positive if it doesn’t work out then it doesn’t happen. To make big plays you need big risks and sometimes that means failing.
5. Set out to take risks. Not stupid risks, just risks. The biggest asset you have as an athlete is to use your mind and courage to see what you can do during competition. So next time you are preparing to compete get yourself to fail huge!