How to Conquer a Fear of Failure

I know the story is way over told and very cliché; but nevertheless it epitomizes the purpose of this story. Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest player in team sports history (not just basketball), was cut from his high school varsity basketball team as a sophomore. He has stated in countless interviews how he used that "failure" as the spark that ignited his tenacious pursuit of excellence, and eventually dominance, on the basketball court.

I truly believe the key to being successful, in any endeavor (but especially sports), is how you view failure and how you view mistakes. Most people view failure as a negative. They are so petrified by failure it becomes an immovable roadblock, and in my opinion, prevents them from attaining success. Others view failure as an integral part of the developmental process and look at mistakes as the speed bumps on the road to success.

I most certainly fall into the latter group. Failure, if handled appropriately, is a key ingredient to being successful. Ask any successful person and they will confirm. Failure can teach you lessons you never would have learned otherwise ("School of Hard Knocks"), it can humble you and allow you to keep a healthy perspective, and it can be used to fuel your motivation for future success like in Michael Jordan's case.

What's really so bad about failure?

The main reason folks fear failure is because of the feeling of rejection they associate with it. People are so worried about getting rejected they avoid it at all costs. Do you realize how successful you could be if you were immune to feeling rejected? Byron Katie once said "you can have anything you want in life if you are willing to ask 1,000 people for it." Anything. Think about that for second. There is a lot of truth to that statement. Ask 1,000 people? Most folks will quit after just one or two "no's."

I see the same fear with players all of the time. What about working on a new move? You think if you practiced that move for thousands of reps you would master it? Of course you would! Who cares if the first hundred times you did it you lost the ball, traveled, or couldn't perform it at game speed? If you keep working on it will eventually become a part of your offensive arsenal.

One of the moves taught at every Nike Skills Academy is the Eurostep; which Tony Parker has made famous in the NBA. It is a deadly move for guards to use around the basket to elude a defender. Even the best high school and college players in the country had difficulty mastering the Eurostep; but those that did were the ones who stuck with it, rep after rep, and didn't mind "failing" the first dozen or so times they tried it.

Jack Canfield, the creator of the Chicken Soup for The Soul series, was turned down by over 30 publishers before landing a book deal. That means over 30 people told him NO! That means he "failed" 30 times. Yet he persisted and believed in himself. Since then he has sold millions of books, inspired millions of readers, and made hundreds of millions of dollars. He is living proof of Byron Katie's quote.

The irony is, in most cases, the person who gets the most "yes's" in life is also the one who gets the most "no's." That means the folks with the most success, usually have had the most "failures" as well! One of my favorite motivational speakers is Steve Chandler, who said "if you never fail, you aren't challenging yourself. You aren't pushing your limits." Amen to that.

That makes me think of one of my favorite quotes (sorry, not sure who originally said this):

"Your greatest fear should not be aiming to high and missing; but aiming too low and achieving."

Here is another way to view this, courtesy of Mr. Chandler. Picture this; I give you a coin. I tell you I will give you $100 for every time you flip it and it lands on heads. You have 10 minutes to flip it as many times as you want! That's it; those are the rules. What would you do? Would you tentatively sit there... scared to flip the coin in case it landed on tails? Of course not! You would flip that sucker as many times as you could... because you know the more times you flip it the more chances you have for it to land on heads (and get paid!)! You couldn't care less if it landed on tails! Imagine having that same fervor for everything you try to achieve in life. I have tried hard to adopt that mantra in my life this past year and it has paid off in countless ways.

When strength training, when you take a set to the point at which you can't perform another quality repetition, you have reached what is called Momentary Muscular Failure... which is a good thing!

Picture a bench press for the ease of the visual. When your chest and shoulders and triceps are so exhausted you can't budge the bar off your chest and you need to a spotter to re-rack the weight... you have just "failed." The good news is consistently and systematically reaching MMF is an extremely productive way to increase strength. While there are certainly exceptions, I have most of my players take most of their sets to the point of momentary muscular failure every workout. In other words, I not only encourage it, but I demand my players "fail" several times each workout! And you know what? Over time they become bigger, stronger, and more powerful.

Players ask me all of the time what they can do to "get better." Certainly an individualized prescription of skill work and player development is almost always necessary. But I can always offer one sure fire way to guarantee improvement: play with players older, bigger, stronger, and better than you are! You will get knocked around, you will get the ball stolen from you, you will get your shot blocked, and will (probably) even dunked on... but most importantly you will get better!

For every picture perfect game winning shot Michael Jordan hit; there were countless other times he missed. Countless other times he could have won the game but didn't. But he never let the fear of missing prevent him from taking the shot. He never let failure get in the way of success.

And neither should you.

Discuss This Article