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There is an old saying ‘we learn from our mistakes’. Embracing failure is fundamental in human and athletic development. For example, think of the reason why parents continually let their children fall down and get back up when they’re learning how to walk. Failing is an integral part of learning. And having a mindset of ‘always learning’ in the midst of disappointment and challenges will help you fail forward. Having the correct perspective surrounding failure sets you up for growth. So important is failure to your eventual success, that many people and athletes see it as a gift. It’s a gift that comes in the form of feedback. It tells you where you need to get better and what you can work on.

Holistically, it’s an opportunity to improve and evolve ourselves, learn from our mistakes and be the very best we can be, and it gives us great tools to make sound decisions. Failure teaches us the power resilience, humility and grace and consequently makes us more appreciative of our success.

By embracing failure, you allow space and enable the following to take shape

· Failing builds character. ...

· Failure creates opportunity. ...

· Failure is a great teacher. ...

· Failure instils courage. ...

· Failure teaches perseverance. ...

· Failure spawns’ creativity. ...

· Failing requires motivation. ...

· Failure is acceptable….

· Failure facilitates resilience….

This article aims to highlight keys ways athletes can embrace failure to get better in sport

Be aware on how you deal with emotions

Dealing with failure is difficult and ask most, it is not always easy. Especially after the months and years of hard work, early starts and the times of questioning yourself if this is worth it. Nevertheless, every athlete who is at the top now or will rise to the top in the future, has done so with facing and dealing with several challenges, disappointments and feats along the way. In elite sports, you have to expect challenges. Expect the unexpected, hardship, adversity and disappointment. They are important to your development and mental toughness capacity. Think of them as an integral, NORMAL and important part of your athletic journey. Allowing failure and uncertainty to flow allows space for success. Understand that no one embarks on the tough road from beginner to champion without encountering a ton of emotional and physical setbacks along the way. It’s actually what makes it worthwhile. It’s in those moments that true greatness lies. Part of being a professional athlete is to handle the hard times and changes beyond your control ‘professionally’. It’s your job as an athlete to embrace these bumps as a normal part of the journey and then use them as a steppingstone to push yourself further along the road. This is called growth. The more you grow, the better, more authentic a competitor and human you will become.

You have to embrace failure to get better: Lebron James

Develop positive responses to failure

No-one likes to lose. No one likes to face the reality of failing. Resilient athletes however, face reality and do not make excuses to why they failed. Remember, if you can create a mindset shift where you see that failing is a crucial part of the athletic journey, then you are in a position to use it constructively. Firstly, using failure as an opportunity to learn is a healthy response and a great way to deal with the flood and variety of emotions that come from loss. Every successful athlete has faced and overcome hard times and unexpected hurdles. In doing so, it builds character, experience and has returned an improved athlete from it. Look at your sporting heroes, and I can assure you when you trace their journey back for inspiration, you will see patterns in positive responses when facing failure.

Analyse your performance to see the what, where why and how

Embrace failure should include the process of learning. Of course, in the midst of handling the disappointment, mental toughness is needed and clearty this extends far beyond dealing with emotions; it’s about facing the reality and using the experience and feedback to hone and improve your talent. Athletes of all sports learn to improve their game through feedback, analysing their performance; good and bad and creating some fundamental behavioural patterns to promote performance. A major fundamental to learn by the athlete is to be open to this feedback, to be hungry to learn.

“My best skill was that I was coachable, I was a sponge and aggressive to learn”: Michael Jordan

Sir Alex Ferguson, one of the world’s greatest managers of all time, made his team review, analyse and explain their poor performance after a bad loss. It was said that this was done to help iron out and weed out those regarding their performance with a negative mindset, against those who were able to be accountable for their performance, as they had a positive, growth mindset, and thus had willingness to learn and improve.

Recognise the problem that the failure exposed

Self-awareness is a key mental strength tool in elite sport. Part of being mature enough in handling loss is facing up to the problem. Deliberation and reflection will reveal many things and it is a vital part of post-competition analysis. Reviewing is powerful. Its where the education is, allowing golden pockets of information to be highlighted and therefore trained on the track. It allows coaches and players to recognise issues individually and collectively and it lays the foundation of understanding where, what, why and how, things went wrong and the possible different actions which can take in future performances to mitigate avoiding making the same mistakes. Dealing with failure maturely requires athletes to be open to their shortfalls, vulnerabilities and accepting that they could have delivered their performance differently. Moreover, failure can expose our shortcomings that we may not know about and highlight areas that we need to work on more in the short, medium and long term. It’s all about education.

Your ability to problem solve: Teach yourself to problem solve effectively

A sports psychology research study about ‘controlling emotions’ tabled a report that explains that problem solving “involves not only generating a number of ways of dealing with a situation but of being aware of the consequences of a particular action that will help facilitate the correct choice of response.” Learning from failure and therefore becoming a better athlete requires you to be a great learner. Learning to problem solve is therefore one of the positive outcomes when athletes review, analyse, reflect and overcome challenge. It teaches us to think differently and it exposes us to new and different ways of tackling a subject or problem. Your ability to think about what historically hasn’t worked, enables you to think ‘laterally’ or ‘outside of the box’ in order to change the outcome the next time you approach it. This skillset becomes invaluable.

Think about what you can learn from failure

Persistence is a key ingredient for elite athletes. And it’s well documented all that developing perseverance is a trait closely linked to successful athletes that have ‘sustained success’. Nonetheless persistence in its rawest form, means the ability to ‘endure’ and carry on, even after many hardships, challenges, losses. Those who have the resilience to do so, often can because they understand that it can take defeat to enjoy the fruits of labour. Rafael Nadal explains;

Enduring means accepting. Accepting things as they are and not as you would wish them to be, and then looking ahead, not behind.” Rafael Nadal

Part of learning to endure requires what you can learn from failure, here are some tips some things that you could think about to help deal with failure and to develop ‘perseverance traits’

1. Avoid generalizing and over analysing the past results. Over thinking based on the past few games don’t help that much. It doesn’t matter what happened in the last 10 competitions or games, or even the last one. Try and Focus on what’s ahead and on how to get better regarding the next opportunity for success.

2. Don’t wait for your performance to suddenly or magically re appear. You have to improve your thinking to improve performance.

3. Review your preparation

Just remember, everything is temporary, so don’t make huge decisions over temporary emotions and frustrations. Remember that failures are always temporary and part of life and sport. You will eventually come out of it; it just takes acceptance and time. However, how long it takes you to get out of the disappointment is up to you, how hard you review your current situation of what you can improve or change.

Endure – put up with whatever comes your way, learn to overcome weakness and pain, push yourself to breaking point but never cave in. If you don’t learn that lesson, you’ll never succeed as an elite athlete.” Rafael Nadal

Don’t be afraid to fail

In the realm of athletic performance training it takes a brave, confident athlete to take a risk, or leap of faith. That’s what sport is, it’s about risk, managing self-doubt and pushing mental and physical thresholds. It’s about getting the best out of yourself. Therefore, being able to push yourself and face your fear and doubts head on, builds resilience and is one of the greatest ways we can achieve success, and establish our way of showcasing our own unique human potential. A psychology publication, emphasises: “You may think that taking risks is, well, risky for your sport. But the reality is that not taking risks is far more risky because performing safe will not get you where you want to go.” Understand that no one embarks on the tough road from beginner to champion without encountering a ton of emotional and physical setbacks along the way. It’s actually what makes it worthwhile. It’s in those moments that true greatness lies.

Challenge your negative thoughts

A great mindset hack is to know what triggers negative self-talk and thinking. Because we know after a defeat, it’s completely understandable to have negative thoughts flooding our mind. Your job as an athlete it to stay confident and role with the punches. Its to evolve and grow and become better for tomorrow. The power of positivity is profound. Enabling a positive mindset will see yourself pave the way for learning, improving and enjoying your sport. it’s the way we interpret these thoughts that is most important. If we have a negative thought, it will equal a negative response. Replace the negative thoughts and always try and have a sunny disposition on sport and failures. Negative thoughts should be acknowledged and validated and of course dealt with. Its impossible to remove them. But, one way of gaining a new perspective is by thinking about how you might respond if a friend or competitor thought about themselves in that way and also recognising what triggers you to have negative thoughts. Learning to control your emotions and your thoughts are powerful mental strength tools, by focusing on strengths, learning to be less self-critical and showing more self-love and care, you may find that the intensity of feelings associated with failing will be more manageable and can be used as a motivating tool to get better.

“With a defeat, when you lose, you get up, you make it better, you try again. That’s what I do in life, when I get down, when I get sick, I don’t want to just stop. I keep going and I try to do more. Everyone always says never give up but you really have to take that to heart and really do never definitely give up. Keep trying.” Serena Williams

Reflect on your performance and your development

A lesson in embracing failure, is the importance of continued reflection and self-introspection used as an important tool to ask high quality questions about you and how you are applying yourself. The ability to look back at your training, your performance with clarity, honesty, in the aim to understand what went well and what didn’t. By giving yourself the permission to allow yourself to see with clarity the strengths and areas for improvement needed will propel you to make changes. If you have the mentality that your talent will be enough for sustained success, then you may be in for a rude shock. What makes the greatest athlete in the world so great is their mentality that there is always room for improvement. Adopting this growth mindset that we are all just ‘work in progress’ or ‘always trying to improve’ allows you to appreciate the journey, sustain dedication and still be hungry to work hard to sustain self-belief.

“I don’t like to lose-at anything… Yet I’ve grown most not from victories, but setbacks. If winning is God’s reward, then losing is how he teaches us.” – Serena Williams

See failures, problems and challenges as opportunities

It goes back to our initial point, which is that we should consider problems as opportunities. Many athletes will agree that we grow from some of our hardest experiences. Experience is invaluable. It enables us to up our game and recognise our weaknesses, which ultimately, we can improve and build on. Failure acts a foundation to instil positive virtues in the way we think and behave. Understand that no one embarks on the tough road from beginner to champion without encountering a ton of emotional and physical setbacks along the way. It’s actually what makes it worthwhile. It’s in those moments that true greatness lies. The uncertainty of the road ahead is what makes sport great and addicting.

Homing in on the tough road is importantly about how you react to and manage your failures, disappointments, performance slumps and plateaus! This will ultimately determine whether you’ll be a success or a failure in anything that you attempt, on or off the playing fields.

And so, by learning to manage stress and adversity, you will become mentally tougher. You will perform better in key moments and perform on the big stage. If you learn to handle stress and utilize coping mechanisms and mental strength intervention’s, nothing will phase you. Your mind and body will learn to normalise pressure situations.


For an athlete, something that is mighty tough to do is accept failure.There are a couple of things that athletes need to start practicing in the midst of failure;

· Develop positive responses to failure

· Analyse your performance

· Recognise the problem that the failure exposed

· Think about what you can learn from failing

· Challenge your negative thoughts

· Don’t be afraid of failing

· Reflect on your performance and your development

· See failures, problems and challenges as opportunities

There is power in vulnerability.

Great athletes allow what comes to them, they don’t fight it. Therefore, the ability to forget and move on is vital. Resilient athletes completely forget about the negative things that happened to them and they put it into perspective quickly which helps them move on from bad performances. Whilst that is good in the immediate and short term, feeling and allowing failure to take place allows space for success, but athletes should always look at times of failure to motivate them and keep them focused on what that need to be doing to improve. It can be a great motivator. Enduring through failure builds mental toughness and resiliency. And accepting failure is essential to building mental toughness and resiliency so that you can recover from mistakes and losses more easily.

So the next time you experience failure in your sporting journey, remember, it is part of the process and part of you recognising and using the lessons it provides for you to become an even better competitor.


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