Harris Fanaroff

3 ways to encourage people to FAIL hard

I love the Michael Jordan commercial where he says, ““I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career, I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.” This goes against the grain of how most people in our society view failure, but it recognizes how much failure can help us. In my journey to find and learn from the highest performers, there is a common theme of failure that each performer has experienced. In order to be the best in whatever our performance is, or as a coach in order to help our players/clients get to their highest potential, failure is inevitable. I heard this from a mentor of mine who said that FAIL stands for “First attempt in learning,” that has opened my eyes to how we should view failure.

In order to best deal with failure we must go to Carol Dweck’s growth mindset work and how much our mindset affects situations. Dweck’s research has shown that what makes someone give up in the face of adversity versus strive to overcome it, is our mindset and our thoughts. If you believe that you are born with your talents or they are fixed, then you will try to avoid failure because it is proof of your limits. People with a fixed mindset like doing things they’ve done before because it reinforces their competence. On the other hand, if you believe talent grows with persistence and effort then you are able to see failure as an opportunity to improve. Having a growth mindset gives you the power to use those failures to improve on whatever you are doing, and with a fixed mindset then you don’t take those risks.

With all that being said, I wanted to share three ways as a coach that we can encourage our players to FAIL hard!

  1. Share the benefits of failing

There are countless stories of professional athletes who didn’t get what they wanted at first, but instead had to go through numerous failures to get there. As a coach, how can we celebrate those players that went through a failure but have used their growth mindset to overcome it to get on the path to where they want to go. People learn from stories, and it’s our job to help our players hear those stories of individuals that pushed on past “failures.” This can be incredibly important for your player that is going through an injury this year but will be a big part of your organization moving forward. After a difficult game, or difficult practice, how are you helping your players to understand it’s normal and they can use it as fuel to get better?

2. Create a culture that makes it okay to fail

A lot of the times our players are so afraid of failing because of the culture that we have built as a coach. It’s our job to make it normal to fail and share the benefits of failing. If our players are afraid to fail, it’s our job as the leader to create an open forum for discussion about why they are feeling that way. What about our leadership or about the team environment is making it so the player feels that they can’t fail? As a coach you need to have the self-awareness to recognize when your players are afraid of failure and ask the questions to figure out why. The performance of your players will improve when you address this question and create an open forum for talking openly about fearing failure.  

3. Recognize when there is a fixed mindset

How often are your players putting limits on themselves? You need to recognize when they are doing so and help them understand when they are operating with a fixed mindset. It is your job as the coach and leader to create a culture that recognizes when people are holding themselves back so the entire team can operate at their full potential. Help your players understand when they are operating with a fixed mindset and how they can talk back to that with a growth mindset. Notice for statements like “if I fail, I’ll be failure,” and help them shift their mindset to “most successful people have had failures along the way.” The fixed mindset player doesn’t take responsibility for their actions and easily deflects blame. Notice when your players are doing this and praise and reward those players who take responsibility and learn from their mistakes.