The Misconstrued Phenomenon of Failure

As a society, we are obsessed with failure and success. At a young age, in classrooms, children learn the concept of failing and internalize the basic message- failure is bad and must be avoided at all costs. This message is an either-or, black and white message with no room for the gray. For young athletes, this becomes a problem because a sportsperson loses more often than they win in their field! In sports, just because you put in effort does not mean that you will succeed. There are factors like opponents, performance, luck etc. which may cause you to not see a satiable result every time you compete. Hence, for the most part, an athlete is operating and performing in the gray area. Does that mean most athletes are failures? Absolutely not!!

Given the complicated nature of sports, it becomes the job of every parent, coach and counselor to make sure that children do not internalize the results of their sports and end up feeling like failures. First and foremost, we need to understand that in adolescent years, there should only be the concept of effort. We should encourage young athletes to focus on the process of preparation and dedication without getting fixated on results. Another important thing to keep in mind is that the result of a tournament is not in the athlete’s control. In tennis, if you are competing against an opponent whose playing style does not complement yours or who is having a very lucky day with line calls, you might lose despite playing well. Similarly, in golf, if the child shoots their best score but other competitors play better, they will not win. In both situations, the athlete gave it their all and still did not win which demonstrates that the results of both scenarios were not in their control. So why should we fuss over something that we cannot change no matter how much we try? It is our duty to guide our children to focus on what can be controlled such as the amount of practice, match preparation, eating well, sleeping on time, fitness regime etc. True success is when a young athlete is able to recognize whether they have given their 100% on the field and accordingly modifies their preparation

Secondly, parents have their own definitions of failure and success, but they should not let children become aware of these parameters. Young athletes might be more mature than their peers but they are still children and cannot handle knowing that they have failed their parent’s expectations. Hence, parents need to be careful about letting their attachment to success and failure known to their children. Moreover, parents must accept that at any given time, their children will experience “failure.” If there is no failure, there is no platform for young athletes to adopt the trial and error method of exploring new methods and ways of preparation. The best way is to let the experience of under-performing or “failing” organically teach them to get back on their feet and explore new ways to excel.

Thirdly, we often overlook the fact that everyone defines their own success. Every human being has varying talent, varying level of effort, and varying circumstances, hence performance and results aren’t comparable. In any sport, each young athlete comes with their own level of ability and passion which means their performance will be impacted by these factors. Now, since all these factors are not equal between athletes, how can we expect children to “beat” their peers and be more “successful” than them. All things are not equal and we should not try to beat that simple rule of nature. Let your children recognize their unique abilities and define what is achievable. Imbibe in them the value of effort, dedication, persistence and let them discover their own echelons of success.

Kanika Minocha, M.Ed., M.A.

Consultant – AddedSport

Psychological Counseling

Columbia University

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