The young athlete will experience plenty of failure during their lifetime. In fact, failure is an important part of the development for a young athlete. So whilst recognising that it can be a good thing, how failure s perceived and dealt with will determine the extent of positive or negative impact it will play in a young athletes career. Get it wrong as a parent or coach and you risk developing a genuine fear of failure. This in turn may lead to changes in behaviour and risk taking that limit both the performance and development of the young performer. However, get it right and failure can be the most valuable learning tool available to aspiring high performers.
Help young athletes put failure into perspective
As a leading youth strength and conditioning coach working with talented young performers across a range of sports I have actively encouraged failure. For example, when developing sports specific speed and movement I want my athletes to be challenged. Genuinely challenged. If an athlete is able to perform everything perfectly throughout a session then I would argue that they haven’t been pushing to the limits. Genuine speed training means working at the top end. Therefore, drills and activities must push athletes to reach beyond their usual performance output.
Whether it’s failing to reach a ball thrown before a certain line, or not nailing a new speed drill movement pattern, athletes must learn to live with failure. Parents and coaches can help young sportspeople to put this failure into perspective. It’s designed to push the boundaries, increase their performance output and prepare them for higher levels. Once young performers understand this they learn to fail without fear. They’re more encouraged to take risks, try new strategies with fear of reprisal or reprimand. Reflecting on failures then shapes future strategy. It’s a vital part of the process.
Differing levels of failure
Failure in sport can occur on different levels for young athletes. Failing to achieve an outcome, such as a particular result or placing, can occur despite performing to potential. Young athletes need particular help understanding that sometimes results are just outside of their control. Help them to understand to focus on controlling the controllables. Processes, on the other hand are not outside of the control of the young athlete. Personal progress is therefore not outside of the athlete, coach and parents control.
Performance may suffer because of mistakes made in technique or errors of judgement leading to a tactical mistake. Other mistakes, such as failure to block a punch in boxing, or make a tackle in rugby may occur because of a lack of physical prowess. To a certain extent these can be controlled and rectified through training. When young athletes come up short with their performance, reflecting upon how and why it occurred can be extremely powerful. In fact Ben Bergeron coach of CrossFit Games World Champion Katrin Davidsdottir makes a point of celebrating failures in training. Finding something she cannot do gives them opportunity to work on it and become better. It’s a nice outlook.
We work with a lot of talented young performers at NK Fitness. Many of experienced significant disappointment on a regular basis. However, we work hard with them to place failure into perspective, and to focus their efforts on rectifying it moving forward. In the same way that we cannot change what we had for breakfast this morning, we cannot change mistakes made in the past – only learn from them.