Wildcats News · Failure as Feedback – Travis D.


June 19, 2020

Failure as Feedback

One of the biggest challenges we face in raising and developing champion young people is helping them understand the valuable role failure can play in any success story, including their own. The truth is, those who win in any area of life almost always do so at least partly because they’ve lost. Their failure has provided them with important feedback, and they’ve used it to help themselves learn, grow, and improve on their way to winning. Look how some of the great winners in sports have linked failure to success:
“I have failed over and over and over again. And that is why I succeed.”
-Michael Jordan, 6-time NBA Champion, Pro Basketball Hall of Famer
“Persistence can change failure into extraordinary achievement.”
-Matt Biondi, 8x Olympic gold medalist, swimming
“I’ve learned something constructive comes from every defeat.”
-Tom Landry, 2x Super Bowl Champion coach, Dallas Cowboys
“Whatever results you get, learn and grow from it and move on to the next one.”
-Dabo Swinney, 2x National Champion coach, Clemson Tigers football
If your child is gonna win in any important area of life, including as an athlete, the same will be true for them. They will win if they can learn to see what champions see – that their failures don’t have to be final. Their failures can actually offer valuable feedback that helps them become their very best.
Most people don’t see failures as feedback, but instead as the sad end to their success story. They create this unhealthy sense of judgment over any negative outcome, or they quickly move past the experience to avoid looking or feeling bad. Those who are wired this way say things like, “I just don’t have it, and I never will,” or “Why try when I already know I can’t do it?” This is the negative voice of what I call our inner loser. It’s part of our human nature and it exists somewhere inside each of us, including in our kids. It encourages us to take the easy way out. To stay comfortable. To settle for mediocrity.
So what happens when failure inevitably comes? Will we listen to our inner loser? That’s a question we all have to answer, and a question your child will have to answer, too. When he or she faces an unwanted or unexpected setback in life, nothing’s easier, more comfortable, or more convenient than trudging away and accepting defeat. In failure, your child’s inner loser will be out in full force, and they’ll have to decide in that moment the place they’ll allow failure to take in their story. The less you’ve helped them see the truth, the more likely they’ll let their inner loser run the show.
Champions, not surprisingly, have been taught and trained to see things differently. Champions recognize that the road to success is lined with failure. They have the courage to face it head on, to explore and examine it, and to uncover what exactly this unwanted or unexpected setback has to offer. That’s one of many things that separates those we consider the best in any area: they crave feedback in all its forms. It might come in the form of instruction or even criticism from a coach. It might come from revisiting past success and working to repeat it. Or, like in this case, it might come from sifting through the frustration and disappointment of a negative performance to find something they can use for the future.
People who are wired this way say things like, “What can this failure teach me?” or “How can I use this challenging circumstance to improve?” This is the strong, powerful voice of our inner champion. We each have one of these inside us, too, and so do our kids. Our inner champion challenges us to see the truth and embrace the harsh reality that our very best requires. It won’t let us settle for average. It pushes us to be great.
Like for everyone, it takes time, effort, and attention to strengthen the voice of your child’s inner champion. If you’re serious about helping him or her become their best, then you have to accept that cultivating that voice is part of your responsibility. That starts, of course, with the example you set and the words you choose, especially in moments of failure. If you’re negative, critical, and judgmental in those challenging moments – if you allow your inner loser to run the show – then don’t be surprised when your child follows suit. Instead, when things get tough, either in your own life or in the life of your kids, do what champions do. By choosing to find and listen to your inner champion, you help your child learn to do the same.
Devote yourself to teaching and training your child to see failure for what it is – feedback. That’s next level sports parenting. Talk to them about the valuable role failure plays in any success story, including their own. Show them the words of winners like Michael Jordan, Matt Biondi, Tom Landry, or Dabo Swinney. Help them understand that those we consider champions in almost any area of life are who they are at least partly because they’ve lost. When you do that important work, you help them re-define failure, see it for what it is, and use it to become a champion for themselves.
-Travis