Failure Q and A

By Craig Sigl

I’ve noticed people can take great offense to the word “failure,” especially in a youth sports context. So, first, let’s define what failure is?

As a mental toughness trainer who has worked with thousands of youth athletes, by far the biggest problem is fear of failure. I have looked at and examined this concept and the word and
have determined it to be non-useful in the context of youth sports participation and therefore, my definition of it is: “A destructive word OTHERS use to describe events when they don’t achieve their goal or outcome.”

In other words, I teach that there is NO SUCH THING AS FAILURE. It doesn’t exist except as a useless story in your mind. (get rid of the idea of failure and you get rid of the fear of it).

Second, what can be seemingly offensive about this word?
It’s destructive to all athlete’s confidence, young and old, and it’s completely unnecessary to use the word for any situation or circumstance. I teach my young athletes to use deadly accurate descriptions of events that allow for growth and improvement, not destruction. For example:

– Event:
A baseball player strikes out at the end of the game leaving runners on base when a hit would have won it for them.

– Destructive description of event using “failed”
“I was up to bat in the last inning and failed to get a hit costing my team the game. I was a failure.”

– More useful description of the event:
“I was up to bat in the last inning and struck out. We didn’t win. I did my very best and learned something about myself that I will use the next time I’m out there. I’m now better able to handle that kind of pressure having gone through it.”
(Notice no need for the word “failure” in any of that useful description)

Why do parents want to protect their children from failure?
Some parents do this because they don’t want to witness their children experiencing difficult emotions..usually it’s the mother. This is because those parents are extremely empathetic and can actually feel the difficult emotions themselves when their child is feeling them. The truth is, those parents are protecting themselves from the feelings that come from “failure.”

Do their interventions hinder children in the long run? If so, how?
Absolutely yes. The whole point about childhood is to learn how to handle life and the difficulties we face while having a support and guidance network as a back stop. If children don’t get the opportunity to experience the adversity and work through it, they don’t learn the mental and emotional skills they will need as an adult and the consequences are much greater as we get older.

What potential life skills come from failure?
Ultimately, it’s resilience. When an outcome is not achieved and disappointment and other emotions follow, there’s 2 basic ways kids (and all humans) respond:

1. Wallow in victimhood
2. Learn from the event and come back stronger and smarter

Resilience, or the ability to come back from adversity or “get back on the horse after you fall off” is paramount to building confidence. Confidence cannot be built in the presence of fear. When you conquer anything difficult, you don’t fear it any more. This applies to small kids as well as adults.

How can parents help their child bounce back from failure to be a better person and athlete?

1. Acknowledge and allow the child to express and discharge the difficult feelings after the event.
2. After emotions subside, help them see the silver lining to the dark cloud.
3. Inspire them by reminding them of their proven strengths and abilities.
4. Label them as someone who always comes back or is a “comeback specialist”

If you have any anecdotes and points you would like to add, please let me know.

I have a story I tell often about a 12 year old volleyball player who’s goal was to play on a college team. She came to me in tears telling me “my coach hates me” and a long story about how she is treated unfairly by this coach and was bumped down to the “B” team in her select club.

After she finished, I shocked her by saying loudly: “That’s great!”

“This coach is doing you a huge favor. What if you had nothing but nice coaches the whole way until your senior year in high school AND THEN you got a bad coach like this? And you fell apart like this right when you needed to be at your best for recruiters?”

“BECAUSE of this bad coach, you are here in my office learning mental toughness and by the time you are a senior, you are going to be the most mentally tough player around and it won’t matter whether you have good or bad coaches all along the way. This coach is doing you a huge favor at this age! She said my favorite words:

“I never thought of it that way”

I ran through all 4 of the steps above in that meeting and this girl ended up bouncing back and starting on the “A” team.

Craig Sigl’s work with youth athletes has been featured on NBC TV and ESPN. Get his free ebook: “The 10 Commandments For a Great Sports Parent” and also a free training and .mp3 guided visualization to help young athletes perform under pressure by visiting: http://MentalToughnessTrainer.com

CoachDeck in North America

Did you know folks are using CoachDeck in all fifty states and every province in Canada? Here is a partial list of who is using CoachDeck. We have become the most trusted resource for volunteer coaches in North America, and we’d like to thank you!

More from yesterday’s post

Below you can read the follow-up conversation we had with the coach who asked us our opinion about what to do about a woman who posted something critical of him on Facebook.

Coach’s email:

Thanks for the quick reply.
 
I coach 9-10 baseball in a small town in Arkansas.  Our games are 6 inning or 1.5 hours long.  We practiced with her son at the catchers position during 4 or 5 practices but decided to go with a couple more boys because he son does not hustle and missed a lot of pitches. 
 
I have copied her post below.  It may not sound like much but I am not used to being criticized.   
 
“Really proud of my (name removed) today!! He’s been bat catcher for the entire 6 years he’s played ball. (Since he was 4.)This year, it’s apparent he won’t get to, even though the other kids on his team don’t really want the position. He had a rough game yesterday between not getting to catch & sitting out 2 innings & was pretty upset & pretty much gave up for the 2nd half of the game. We had a talk on the way home about not giving them the satisfaction of giving up. Today he went out there at practice & did what he had to do, even though tomorrow we have to find out if he has a broken or jammed finger. He didn’t let it get him down, even when he was yelled at for taking off his glove in the outfield when he was hurting… and I never saw tears in his eyes until we got in the truck. I’m very proud of the way he played today & that he didn’t give up even when he very clearly was in pain & upset. He has way better of an attitude about things than his Momma for sure! Way to go son!”
 
Her son took his glove off during the last 3 batters of practice and was just holding it under his arm.  I told him to put his glove back on and that he wasn’t ready.  I was on the 3rd baseline and he was in LF so I wasn’t yelling at her kid. 
 
Any more feedback is appreciated. 

Our response:

I would ignore it and just do what you think is right in terms of playing time/positions. If she does it again, then tell her you would like to speak with her privately. I think I’d also report it to the league just so that they’re aware in the event it becomes an ongoing issue. Real shame what she’s doing to her kid.

That’s a funny team photo

Thanks for everything this year, coach. The players all really loved being on the team, playing and taking the team photo…well maybe not the last one. (Courtesy Guff.com)

The Ride Home

Our friends at True Sport have launched a terrific campaign called, The Ride Home, aimed at positively changing the way parents interact with children after sporting events. This is some great stuff and is must-read for all sports moms and dads.

Ten Strategies to Build Unstoppable Confidence in Youth Athletes – Part 3

By Craig Sigl

In this third part of the series, you are going to discover that, quite possibly, the best thing we can do to foster confidence in kids is to eliminate what I call “Confidence Killers.”

I have a firm belief from my experience in working inside the minds of hundreds and hundreds of kids personally that confidence building happens naturally when there are no blocks stopping it.

So, I’m going to switch it up on you by starting out telling you about the things you’ve got to STOP doing that kill confidence-building in kids.

Strategy # 7. Stop giving your kid encouragement, praise and cheers ONLY when they do well in their performing.

Most of us adults have forgotten what it’s like to be a kid. If I didn’t see them for years now, I would have too. Here’s what you need to understand:

When the young performer does well, and you cheer and praise you are giving your approval of what they have just done.

When the kid does not do well, and looks over at the bench or sideline at you, and sees your disappointed face and body posture, the child gets the message of Disapproval.

As sports fans and audiences, we are conditioned to cheer when things go right and go “Awww” when they go wrong for our team. Now, this is totally fine when you’re watching your favorite pro sports team. Those players are not your children and they can take it. But not your kids. They subconsciously take it, literally, as a form of rejection, and there’s nothing worse for a kid than getting that from their parent.

What you need to do is be passionately positive even when nothing exciting is happening…but especially when the child has a poor performance of any kind. You do not want your child coming away from a game, meet or match with the idea that your approval is dependent on their performance.

You may just be showing your disappointment in empathy for them but that’s not how they are taking it. This is a huge confidence killer. Here’s the best encouragement you can give to a kid so that natural confidence and resilience can be built: “I love watching you play.” Default to that and you can’t go wrong.

Strategy #8. Stop telling your kid how they could have done better on the car ride home.

Or otherwise giving unsolicited advice or questioning at any time right after a game/event of poor performance or a loss. Most often, the best thing you can do as a sports parent, is nothing or at most, “I loved watching you play.”

Kids can be very resilient and grow that muscle…if we let them. For example, If you ever watch little kids play in the sandbox together and one of them upsets the other, there’s crying and finger pointing for a few minutes and then after a short time, the kids are right back in the sandbox playing again like nothing happened.

Kids have a much greater natural ability to let go of difficult events faster than us adults. We learn how to hold on to things as we get older because we have all this complex thinking that requires full mental resolution on things.

Kids don’t have that yet and can develop resiliency through difficult events, if allowed to. That’s what we should want for them for their participation in sports – life skills such as resilience, right?

To do that, Kids often need the space and freedom to express, if they want to, and then process the difficulty in their own way. Let them. If a kid is holding on to the loss or poor performance and it’s effects for more than a day, then you can jump in and ask if he or she would like to talk or would like some help with their game to improve on the problem.

But, stop jumping in and saving your kid or teaching them how to do it right next time at the worst time, right after the event. That’s what we have coaches for. Resilience is the foundation for confidence.

Craig has personally worked with thousands of professional and amateur athletes on the mental side of their game. He is an author and creator of 7 mental toughness programs sold in 28 countries and writes to over 30,000 athletes in his emails. Discover Craig’s programs for mental toughness and confidence building at: www.mentaltoughnesstrainer.com

What I’d Like to Hear a Coach Say After a Big Game

By Brian Gotta, President of CoachDeck

From youth leagues to high school, to college and pro sports, we’ve all heard coaches tell their team after winning a championship game, “Enjoy this moment. You’ll remember it the rest of your lives.” I’ve probably even said it myself. But it recently occurred to me that what I’d really love to hear a coach say is this:

After culminating a memorable season with a championship, how would this be for a message? “This was fantastic. Now, go live the rest of your life in a manner that makes this seem insignificant.”

The “Big Man on Campus” who can’t move on, the former high school star who is always saying, “Remember when?” These are cliches in American culture. Bruce Springsteen even wrote a song about it. So many athletes try to hold on their their “glory days.”

Our society places so much emphasis on athletic accomplishment. From the seemingly hundreds of television channels broadcasting sporting events, some at the high school level, to the pressure parents put on children barely out of diapers already on travel teams, to the crushing weight of college scholarships, one might draw the conclusion that there is nothing more important in life than winning, succeeding, achieving in athletics. We are arguably the world’s most competitive nation.

But with the possible exception of the Senior Tour in golf, it eventually ends for everyone. Some by middle school, most after high school, a lucky few get to play in college or even a few years in the pros, but what then? If we were told all our lives through every message that succeeding in sports is the highest aspiration, where do we go when it’s over?

Maybe instead we can strive to think like Leland Melvin. If you’ve not heard of him, Melvin was a star receiver at Heritage High School in Virginia who attended the University of Richmond on a football scholarship. He finished his career at Richmond as their all-time leader in receptions and was an honorable-mention All-American. He also finished with a degree in Chemistry.

He was drafted by the Detroit Lions but released after he injured his hamstring. He then signed with the Dallas Cowboys. At the same time he enrolled in the University of Virginia’s Materials Science and Engineering Masters program, studying at night after practice. When another serious hamstring injury ended his football career, he applied to NASA, eventually becoming an astronaut and flying two missions aboard the Space Shuttle Atlantis.

According to his Wikipedia page his recreational interests include photography, piano, reading, music, cycling, tennis, and snowboarding. Melvin appeared as an elimination challenge guest judge in the 12th episode of Top Chef, with his dogs in the seventh season of The Dog Whisperer, and was the host of Child Genius. He is the president of the Spaceship Earth Grants, a public benefit corporation whose mission is to make space more accessible through human spaceflight.

A few minutes ago many of us would have agreed that if we or our children could play NCAA football, be the school’s all-time leading receiver and All-American, and be drafted into the NFL, that would be a lifetime achievement. But after reading what Leland Melvin went on to do after all of that, does the football part still seem like such a big deal?

If our children grow up knowing that what they can accomplish in science, business, social work, politics, the arts, education or other fields will give them more satisfaction and leave a more significant and lasting legacy than any trophy, travel-ball championship, high school banner or even college scholarship, it doesn’t mean they will not try as hard or get as far in sports. But it may mean they’ll understand that their “glory days” are always in the future, and never in the past.

Brian Gotta is a former professional youth baseball coach and current volunteer Little League coach and board member. He is the President of CoachDeck and also author of four youth sports novels and a baseball coaching book which can be found at www.booksbygotta.com. He can be reached at brian@coachdeck.com