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Learning to Embrace Failure

Written by: Coach Kelley

Failure is defined as a lack of success. For an athlete, failing can be scary, overwhelming, and intimidating. But it doesn’t have to be this way. What if I told you to embrace failure and welcome it with open arms? Frustration, falling, losing - bring it on!

In order to embrace failure, we must first understand it. What one athlete perceives as failure, another may celebrate as victory. We’ve all seen humorous memes with captions like, “Second place is the first loser”, “You didn’t win a silver medal, you lost the gold”. Those statements don’t really work for me. I always tell my gymnasts that they WON the silver medal instead of losing the gold, and that there are plenty of other athletes who would gladly take their 2nd place spot on that podium. So how do we help our gymnasts learn to view their failures and setbacks in a positive manner, when their sport demands perfection every time they step on the competition floor?

To master anything new, you must first start out as a beginner. No one is born knowing how to do a cartwheel! Beginners make a lot of mistakes. Mistakes which provide them with an opportunity to learn and grow. You must be willing fail in order to get it right. It’s simply part of the process. If you are worried about losing or messing up, chances are you will.

If you truly want to achieve your goals, the one thing you need to learn to do better than anyone else is fail and fail HARD! Failing can feel nasty and humiliating, but you can’t get better at anything in life unless you are willing to crash and burn along the way. Failures, mistakes, and losses provide you with valuable feedback regarding what you did wrong and what NOT to do the next time.

Every time you fail, you have an opportunity to learn. Failures highlight your weaknesses, and if you can move past that icky feeling of not being good at something, you open yourself up to learning new skills. When a gymnast tells me that they’re bad at a certain event, I tell them to make that event their best. It’s ok to admit you need extra work on a certain skill. You can’t improve in your sport without knowing your shortcomings!

Dr. Patrick Cohn, owner of Peak Performance Sports identifies four steps to deal with the fear and worry that surround failure:

  1. Identify your fears and worries

  2. Examine the consequences of those beliefs

  3. Compare the pros and cons of maintaining those beliefs

  4. Learn mental skills to challenge and modify those beliefs

Remember, failure is a useful and necessary training tool. Anything worth doing well is worth doing badly. Don’t be afraid to fall, just remember to get back up and try again. Learn from your setbacks and move on, you’ve got this!


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