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Fear of Failure

Often I am asked by my clients, “What can I learn from failure?” My answer is everything and nothing. It really depends on who you are and how good you want to be.

Sports are the greatest venue for us to learn about winning and losing and about success and failure, because the score at the end of the game or competition doesn’t lie. You either come in first place or you don’t. You either ran a best time or you didn’t. You either shot a lower score on the golf course to beat your archrival or you did not.

So how do we achieve the results that we want? What can we gain by losing or failing in our quest to be the champion? I believe it depends on your attitude, on your ability to grow as a person and on your desires to become the best you can be.

There are so many variables that are components of success: commitment, attitude, honesty, communication, preparation, goals, confidence, overcoming fear … we can go on and on.

However, during my 25 years working in the world of sport psychology, I have learned that the very best athletes, coaches and teams would all admit one common theme: they all hate to lose. It doesn’t matter if it is the Super Bowl, the World Series, the NCAA Championship, the high school state title game or a game of ping pong in your basement, the best athletes despise coming in anywhere but the top.

Often, for many of them, they appreciated the taste of victory because they spent many times losing to the competition. After failing to reach the top, they learned that when they finally achieved their goal, they savored the feelings it gave them.

The November 20, 2006 issue of Sports Illustrated had the Kansas Jayhawks on the cover as the number one basketball team in the country. The day the magazine came out November 15, 2006, the team lost to Oral Roberts University in Lawrence, Kansas.

Numerous quotes from the players and coaches referred to the team being overconfident and letting the national media attention get into their heads. They took it for granted that they would win their game because they were ranked number one. Oral Roberts took it as a great challenge, as it was a huge underdog. Kansas lost in part, because it did take it for granted that because it was ranked, it would win. It worked the opposite way.

Earlier this year, the Pittsburgh Steelers won the Super Bowl. They were the last wild card team in the AFC and won three road games in the playoffs to make it to the Super Bowl. The team knew it had a tremendous challenge ahead of them and attacked each game knowing that it could be their last of the season. The Steelers won the Super Bowl because they were not afraid to lose because they had everything to gain and nothing to lose by being the underdog in each game.

When a team is consistently winning, and having a lot of success, it is not unusual to forget the simple things that go them to achieve their success. Just like the Kansas basketball team, you can often believe that you will win because you are who you are, instead of doing the extra things, like running an extra ten minutes in your workout, spending more time working on your short game or talking with your coach about what he/she thinks you need to keep doing to continue to improve and succeed.

When you fail to reach your goal or lose the competition, you can take it one of two ways. You can either blame everyone else why you lost or you can look deeply in the mirror at yourself and recommit yourself to your training to take the time to understand your mistakes and why you made them.

The greatest athletes and coaches, when giving their victory speech, will always refer back to the days when they were losing, as to the days they learned the most about themselves. Those are usually the days the athletes refer to as reality checks and the time to look deeply at their commitment, their desire and attitude and the confidence they need to be their best.

You will almost always hear the champions talk about how much they hate to lose, but also about how the days that they lost left a bad enough taste in their mouths, that they made a commitment to themselves to never let that happen to them again.

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