Dare To Fail Part 2
Posted by: Hunter Soens | University of Denver Sports Psychology
As promised in last month’s blog, we will devote this blog to presenting some skills and approaches for managing and overcoming the fear of failure. The skills provided, like many others, are going to take practice and may themselves lead to failure from time to time. Remember: that is all part of the learning process, and you will likely be better for going through it. Even if you are not someone who faces this fear of failure regularly, the following practices and skills can help in facing other challenges in your life, both within and beyond sport.
What are your Values?
A simple exercise to come back to when faced with the fear of failure is thinking about your personal values. We all have values that we live our everyday life by, whether we have explicitly identified them or not. It is a powerful practice to think about the values you live your life by and know what drives you. Understanding these values will allow you to feel more guided in life and help to push through adversity. You may have a set of core values that you live your life by every day, as well as situation-specific values (i.e. your values in soccer may be slightly different than the values you utilize in school). Actively trying to fulfill these values may include failures from time to time. Because of this, it is important to focus on the striving and the why behind what you are doing while you are on this journey. If you stay connected to your why, the fear of failing will never have the power to hold you back from trying.
For this blog, let’s focus on soccer. If values are so important, how do you figure out your values that drive you to play soccer? Here are some different approaches we recommend:
Start by asking yourself some questions:
- What initially drew me to this sport?
- Why am I playing this sport right now?
- What makes me passionate about playing this sport?
Look at your actions, behaviors, and attitudes surrounding soccer – they should point you toward your values.
- EX: If you show up to practice on time every day and are excited to play, your personal values may include discipline and enjoyment.
Be honest with yourself; only come up with values that you truly believe in.
Keep these values in mind throughout your daily life – write down your values!
- For soccer, write a little reminder on your cleats, a wristband, headband, etc… to promote a productive, daring head space.
Speak about your values with others!
- Teammates, friends, family, etc…, can be a crucial support system in times of fear and failure, and can serve to remind you of your why.
Let’s say one of your values is that you play soccer because you genuinely love the game and have fun playing. If you go out and have the worst performance of your life, BUT you still had fun, is that really a failure? Regardless of the outcome, you are still living out your values simply by playing for the love of the game. In this way, identifying your personal values is a great starting point to redefine failure for yourself, both in soccer and in life.
Set Small Goals
Along with identifying your personal values, set small goals for yourself in specific areas of your life. Set a goal for soccer for the week. Set a goal for one particular game. Set a goal for one skill. These small goals will help keep you focused and allow you to feel a sense of accomplishment even if you don’t experience other “wins” (such as winning the game, scoring a goal, etc…). Focusing on these small goals will give you small victories and allow you to build confidence. Take notice of these wins, give yourself credit for accomplishing something, and begin stashing these successes away in your mind. Stockpiling small victories in this way will allow you to have something to fall back on when you inevitably encounter failure; you have had wins before, you will have wins again, failing is simply part of the process. Small goals can also serve to give you something to look forward to/focus on so you are not focusing on the fear.
Here are a handful of things to remember when you are crafting your small goals:
- Make sure your goals are SMART (Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Relevant, Timely)
- Don’t set too many goals at once, and adapt them if necessary.
- Make a plan for working on your goals, and identify possible roadblocks to goal achievement.
- Discuss your goals with someone else, whether it is a parent, teammate, friend, etc… to increase your personal accountability to your goals.
- Write your goals down, and check-in on your progress frequently (goal-setting is not a productive practice without this crucial step of evaluation).
Control the Controllables
Another aspect of overcoming fear of failure is to focus on controlling the controllables. If you can’t control something (like the refs or the weather) then what good will it do to worry about it? It will likely pull your focus away from things that matter and be more detrimental to your success than it is going to be beneficial. What are some things that matter for a soccer game? Being physically prepared? Being mentally prepared? Being ready for your opponent? How can you possibly focus on all of these things if you are also worried about all of the things you can’t control? It is near to impossible to do so.
I challenge you to try and let go of the things you can’t control and focus on the things that you can control. Replace that thought of “will the refs make the right calls?” with, “is my first touch where it needs to be for this game so that I can be effective?” Honing in on controllables, such as pre-game preparation, can serve to minimize fears associated with failure simply by providing you peace of mind. If you have done your job and controlled everything within your power, your fears entering a situation in which you may fail should be lessened.
What’s more, even if you do “fail” you can walk away from that experience knowing you did all that you could do, thereby putting yourself in a better position to learn from the “failure”. I know this is all easier said than done, but start with the small steps and the small goals – this is the path to getting where you want to be.
Identifying your personal values, setting small goals, and controlling the controllables are a handful of practices that can help to reframe your personal definition of failure (and success!). Remember: you don’t fail when you are unsuccessful, you fail when you don’t try something because fear (of failure, judgment, attention, etc.) is holding you back. Failure is inevitable; it would be very difficult to find somebody that has achieved greatness in their life without encountering numerous failures on their journey to excellence. Even the best continue to fail while in their prime. Instead of allowing that failure to knock them down, the best competitors use failures as learning experiences so they can grow and be better for the next time. How can you continue to push yourself and get better without failing? The simple answer is you can’t. Consider practice: one of the objectives of effective practice is to be doing something that you have yet to master with the goal of becoming better and ultimately learning or refining a skill. If you just go out every day and do the things that you’re good at, what are you going to gain or learn? Nothing. Failure is a completely normal part of the process of learning, and it is time that we embrace it rather than let the fear control us. How can you really fail if you went out there, gave it your best effort, and learned something from the experience? As long as you do this, even if you didn’t reach your goal, you will have taken a step toward overcoming that fear of failure, which is a win in itself.
I hope that these blogs have been helpful in developing understanding around how fear of failure operates in your own life and exploring strategies to help manage it. There are plenty of ways to overcome the fear of failure, and the practices listed in this blog are just a few ideas to help guide you in examining and reconsidering your relationship with failure and success. When it really comes down to it, failure exists in the reluctance to try. So, get out there and try things that push you and present the opportunity for both failure and growth. After all, failure is usually the best teacher there is.
We hope you have enjoyed learning a bit more about reframing failure, and that these blogs prompted a bit of self-reflection. Next month, we will shift the conversation toward celebrating diversity and fostering inclusion both on and off the field. Thanks for reading!