Tyler walked back to the dugout, dragging his bat, his head low and tears welling up in his eyes. He had just experienced what all hitters hate the most: A strikeout. My assistant coach, his dad, exclaimed, “There’s no crying in baseball! If you don’t cut it out, were going home!” Tyler was 8 years old.
Instead of teaching his son about the gift of failure, Tyler’s father reprimanded him for showing honest, raw emotion — something very common in young children. At that moment, maybe Tyler just needed a hug, a pat on the back or some words of encouragement. Maybe later a brief talk about perspective, doing our best at all times and learning from our failures would have been better than publicly embarrassing Tyler in front of his team and the whole crowd.
Kids must be taught how to deal with failure, not reprimanded for or protected from it.
Parents respond to their children’s failures in different ways. Some are like Tyler’s dad, who has no tolerance for failure, never mind his child’s very young age. Others will try to protect their children from any type of failure, or when it does happen, they will make excuses or place blame on someone else. Neither one of these approaches benefits kids in any way; they only benefit the egos of these confused parents. Expecting too much too soon from kids causes “unproductive failure.” Guiding kids through life’s natural letdowns with practical solutions is “productive failure.”
Failure is a normal occurrence on the road to success.
At my facility, Chuck’s Gym, where I teach baseball and martial arts, failure is something that happens on a daily basis. But so does success. The failures that occur are part of a calculated process that leads to sustainable success. As students master their current level, more difficult technique is introduced that challenges the students to higher, more advanced levels. In this way, over time, the body adapts to a higher degree of skill.
Success can be easy to achieve if you set the bar low enough.
If you’re never experiencing failure, you are either not getting out of your comfort zone, or you’re a natural phenom. Most of us are not, so putting in the work and constantly raising the bar is necessary for improvement. The higher the goal, the more obstacles there are to overcome. Even naturally gifted athletes experience failure. It reminds them that consistent practice is necessary if they wish to take their game to higher levels.
The first reaction for most kids when they experience failure is frustration. This is normal. But we must teach them to stay positive by replacing frustration with knowledge. Failure should cause us to learn, not cause us to quit.
Real learning does not take place in a negative atmosphere.
Kids won’t respond in a positive way when they fail if adults don’t respond in a positive way. Whether playing in a rec league or on a travel team, one thing all kids have in common is their young age and their lack of life experience. So, helping kids understand the role failure plays in their personal development is the secret to success.
Tyler’s dad was embarrassed that his 8-year-old son couldn’t just “suck it up” after his disappointing strikeout. Truthfully, the situation was more about him than his son. Tyler was acting normal. His father was not.
When kids shed tears after a strikeout, a missed goal or a tournament loss, it’s because they feel they have let their parents down. If this perspective isn’t changed, kids will develop a fear of failure. And to avoid it, they will no longer challenge themselves. This leads to playing it safe on the field, which is a recipe for failure in competition. It becomes a roadblock to success, both on and off the field.