10 Ways Failure Can Lead to Success for Athlete and Team!

My latest 14u team played in a very competitive tournament over Memorial Day in Orange County and during the course of 8 games over 3 days we experienced both the exaltation of a great extra innings win late Sunday night and the devastation from a blown 6-2 lead in the last inning early Monday morning, eliminating us from the tournament (finished 9th out of 50).

It's what makes sports great isn't it? The ups and downs, the emotional highs and lows.

As a coach, sports parent and mental performance expert I'm always looking for ways my athletes and teams can channel adversity as well as success in ways that will heighten their passion, desire and commitment for the game. As it is said, "Champions are made and not born." I believe that to be true.

So how can your athlete and her/his team make themselves into champions this summer and beyond? One way is to take a painful loss or mistake and turn it into something great! It kind of follows along the adage, "When life gives you lemons make lemonade."

Here are 10 ways in which failure is a good thing on the field or court. In fact, the more devastating the better! It's all in the perception.

1. Failure is a part of the game. Accept it and move on. - If your athlete is a perfectionist this concept can be hard to grasp for them. And because external expectations from parents and coaches has skyrocketed any failure is ultra magnified. No one who ever played the game was perfect, so why should your athlete?

2. Failure as an opportunity to reflect and "feel" the pain. - Sometimes a painful team loss or individual failure allows an athlete or team to "feel" the pain, the disappointment, the anger. This reflection after the fact can allow your athlete to grow and stoke the fire to work harder and smarter!

3. Failure as a seed of opportunity. - Like I tell the players I coach "the game" will always give them a personal report card after every game to let them know what areas of their game they are excelling at and what areas need more work. Without failure and adversity an athlete's weaknesses wouldn't be uncovered, and the opportunity to hone in on improving those weaknesses would not present itself.

The agony of defeat.
4. Failure as a motivator, a challenge to be better. - Some athletes shrink from adversity and on the field/court failure while others use such failure to motivate themselves. Yes, some days the game will get you. But the game will always give you another opportunity to shine if your head and heart are in the right place. Ask yourself the hard questions...did you give maximum effort? Did you bring your "A" attitude? Did you bring laser focus? If not you should be motivated to do so in the future. Remember, these are all elements of your game you have 100% control over!

5. Giving credit to the other team. - Sometimes the better team wins. For an athlete to get down on themselves because of a loss is foolish if the loss was caused by a great performance by the other team. Remember, every game must have a loser (except in soccer...but I view a tie as a loss!). Perhaps the athlete can learn something by watching the other team to help improve their game. What did they do that caused them to play so well? Remember, imitation (emulation) is the sincerest form of flattery!

6. Focusing on effort, not outcome. - Herein lies the key to making lemonade from lemons. Let go of the stats and the "L" and see the big picture. Every sport requires years and years to achieve any lasting mastery, so to focus solely on the results or outcome (this applies to coaches and parents too) is shortsighted. Once any athlete truly focuses on their effort and the process of getting better the results will become secondary (still important, see #3) and consistent success on the field or court will appear more rapidly.

7. Re-evaluating expectations (mastery is a process). - In our ultra competitive "win at all costs" society we place far too much emphasis on winning. For younger athletes (8-18) who, as I stated in #6, are still in the process of mastering their sport excessive or misplaced expectations by parent or coach (external) or by athlete (internal) can hinder growth and joy for playing the game. Proper expectations mean being okay with the inevitable bumps along the road to mastery. Allowing failure to happen is the first step towards lasting success. Fear of failure will only bring more of it.

8. Remembering your successes along the way. - The sting of failure and adversity on the athletic field/court is significantly lessened if an athlete can remember prior successes. The key is maintaining the mindset that the occasional bump in the road is a necessary part of long term success in any sport. Taking failure or adversity too hard insures that the next play or game may also bring more failure. On the other hand maintaining a healthy perspective, as noted, can minimize and "quarantine" thoughts of failure and allow for quicker recovery towards greatness!

9. Failure is an opportunity to come together as a team with fortified goals. - From a team perspective losing and failure can serve to tear a team apart or bring it together. Failure can become a habit just as easily as success can. Failure provides the seed of opportunity to re-visit team goals, desires and motivations (the "why" you play), and to see new leaders emerge on a team.

10. Failure provides a gut check as to how hard an athlete wants to work to get better (or maybe the lows of the game are just too much?) -'s the old football player in me. I think far too many kids playing sports today are part of an overall "entitled" generation that often times simply isn't tough enough to handle adversity. Elite athletes are the ones that push through adversity by having a strong mental game plan and solid work ethic in which failure absolutely makes them stronger. All too often we coddle our children, trying our best to keep them from the jaws of failure. Although noble this path will not help your child to cope with the real world in adulthood, nor succeed playing their chosen youth sport(s).

Bottom line...failure and adversity are what you make it. For your athlete to achieve consistent peak performance on the field or court she/he must be able to frame failure in a healthy, productive manner that will allow him/her to bounce back and magnify their desire to get better and accelerate their success.

**A great way to overcome failure is through the development of rock solid self-confidence. Check out my Sports Confidence Blueprint program here. You'll be glad you did!