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The Effects of Fearing Failure

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There’s a common theme spreading through sport these days; “motivated and passionate athletes are rare; players just aren’t like they used to be”. I’ve noticed and even agreed with this statement at times, but the more I ponder it, I think it may be a bit of a cop out. The game hasn’t changed, maybe the athletes have evolved, but I don’t think it’s as significant as some claim it to be.

Athletes who seem to be unmotivated and continually make excuses for their lack of ability may be experiencing a significant fear of 5308196-success-failure-green-road-sign-illustration-on-a-radiant-blue-backgroundfailure. These athletes are so afraid to fail that they start to avoid hard work all together. In doing this, they create a perfect excuse for not performing well. For example; an athlete like this will put little effort in at practice, stay up late that night, and then perform under par at the game the next day. This athlete now has the perfect excuse for not playing well – a lack of sleep. When these athletes do succeed and perform well, it makes their abilities look above average because they are succeeding while putting very little effort forth. These athletes are creating a self-serving bias. In good outcomes they attribute their succeses to their abilities and efforts, and in negative outcomes they attribute their failures to something external that is beyond their control.

This is a defense mechanism. It protects the athlete from honestly putting themself out there and experiencing cold, hard, failure. This nonchalant attitude they carry prevents them from having to attribute failure to personal shortcomings. It protects their ego and self perception.

These are athletes who play tentatively and conservatively. They are timid and aren’t as aggressive as they should be. They hope for the opponent to make a mistake that tilts the game in their own favor.

Coaches, take a look at who you are as a coach. Is it possible that you could be the culprit to this persona? How do you react to a failure or mistake?

Athletes, does this sound familiar? As you reflect, are you noticing that you stray from giving practice all you got? Are you images (5)experiencing an overwhelming fear of failure?

Parents, have you noticed what seems to be a lack of motivation in your child? Have you been putting excess pressure on them to succeed?

These athletes need to realize that failure is a means to learn, grow, and develop their abilities. Without failure we would never get better or make adjustments to improve our game. Failure is a natural and beneficial peice of sport. Especially in sports like baseball and softball failure is a significant part of the game. A GREAT batting average is .400; that’s “failing” 6 times out of ten at the plate. Encourage and empower athlete’s abilities and teach them to change their perspective on failure. It’s not a failure, it’s a learning opportunity.

Quote of the day:
I’m postive that a doer makes mistakes. I want a team full of doers” – John Wooden

About smarcia12

I am a special education teacher who also holds a MA in Sport Psychology.

2 responses »

  1. Steve Garrett

    Good insights, Sarah. I agree that kids fear failing because they think of failure as such a negative thing. Reggie Jackson tells kids that he hit 563 home runs lifetime, but what he doesn’t tell them is that he struck out 2,597 times during those same years. I heard it said once that parents often try to prepare the road for the child, instead of preparing the child for the road. Allowing kids to fail is the first lesson life can offer.

    • Thank you so much for the comment, I love your insight on how parents prepare the road for their kids rather than their kids for the road, that’s so true!


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