Saturday, January 29, 2011

Celebrating Failure

Talking with a friend this week a memory came to the surface that he thought was worthy of a blog post. At the risk of being self serving, I share it here.

Years ago, I came across a principle. It is not a particularly profound principle in fact it is quite basic. Even though it is simple that does not diminish its power. The principle is: A person will never give a manager, coach, teacher, parent or any other leader their full potential when the fear of failure is present and especially if they feel that failure is fatal.

It was a year where I was one of the assistant coaches and I hated it. You see I like being in charge, so being an assistant hacked away at my pride and my creativity. My son was age 13. This team and league were new to both of us. The head coach was not a tyrant but mistakes were certainly not celebrated and it was common for a player to be pulled immediately from the game for a small infraction. The team’s win loss record was less than great, with only an occasional win.

Late in the season the head coach came to me, unable to make the next game, he asked me if I would be the acting head coach for the upcoming game. I agreed with some exuberance. He warned me that the team we were playing had previously beaten us soundly and he was sorry for leaving me with such a dismal outlook. Maybe it was because I didn’t respect him that caused him to not respect me but either way he was clear in his communication that he expected little, and a loss.

Being the rebellious person I am, and watching all year in silence, his coaching style. Maybe I was more excited about this opportunity than I should have been. I knew after this game, I would not be asked to fill in again, so I immediately decided to ignore his long list of instructions and the lineup sheet he gave me. One thing for sure, I was not going to start his son! Brian would take the starting spot in the lineup. Brian was a far better player and because he played the same position as the coach’s son, he was yet to start a game – I hated that! BTW-small bonus, a couple of years latter Brian told me I was the best coach he ever had – and why wouldn’t he?

I also, decided to make another change. The team had stretched out and it was time for the pre-game meeting. I had the team follow me and we jogged out into right field, right up next to the fence. All the other adults were far out of ear shot which is exactly what I wanted.

“What are we doing way out here coach?”

“Good question, we are going to have a talk. Today were going to do something different, there is going to be a new rule. It will probably only be for this game but this rule is just for you. The new rule is this, everyone is allowed three mistakes during this game.” I looked around, it was a miracle, the whole team was intently listening. I paused a long time, taking in the phenomena. Getting over my shock I continued, “When you make a mistake you will not be pulled out of the game, you will not be criticized, you will not be yelled out. You can strike out three times, you can make three fielding errors, you can get thrown out trying to steal, it doesn’t matter. Each of you get three mistakes. And, who knows some of you might even get four.”

They looked at me dumfounded. Brian threw up a hand. “Yeah, Brian?”

“You mean I can miss the ball totally and you’re not going to yell at me?”

"That’s right, any more questions?”

There were a couple more questions similar to Brian’s. As I answered them and explained that when one played with worry it was like a lead weight hanging around his neck and it was impossible for anyone to play to their full ability. I talked to them how I believed in them and thought they all had abilities we had never seen. It wasn’t long before the light began coming on. Some were still suspicious but moods began to change. Fearful stressed faces began to relax and smiles began to replace scowls. You could begin to see they thought this might be fun!

The game started and true to my word – with great exuberance I celebrated effort regardless of the outcome. Weaker batters I would say, when you go up there, no soft swings, swing at that ball hard! Let it know who it came in contact with! Kids that normally looked for a walk got hits and hard hits. Players who had God given speed but were normally timid on the bases took risks and stole bases. Yes, some struck out and some were thrown out, but all in all, very few mistakes were made. Skill levels we had not seen before came to the field that day. Even the conversation between the players was lighter and encouraging. I don’t remember the score but we won that game by a large margin and it reinforced in me, the principle, that fear of failure in and of its self is fatal.

The coach did show up during the second to the last inning and was dumbfounded. I told him about our three mistake rule, which he was very unimpressed with. But, I was right about one thing, I never was asked to fill in again.

I hope you do what you can to remove the fear of failure from you own life and also from those you lead. It might surprise you what is lying there waiting to come out.

Good luck – take a risk.


AngelMc said...

I have never really cared for sports. I have always thought there was too much emphasis on winning rather than the enjoyment of the game itself.
I enjoyed this post.

GLB said...

GQ, Great Post!
One of the big problems of our go so fast, live so far apart lives, is we don't REALLY get to know how smart our little brothers have become after we have both grown up and grown apart. You continue to amaze as I learn things about your adult life, that I mostly missed. Looking forward to seeing you in April.
I love you.

Sylvia K said...

Fantastic post! And I couldn't agree with you more! It was always my way of dealing with my students and, YES, it worked -- always. There were a number of teachers who certainly did not agree with me, but no one argued with the success of my students. Enjoy the rest of your weekend and thanks!


Linda at To Behold The Beauty said...

You may have been asked to substitute coach only once, but those boys were able to play at least one game that year that was FUN! Good for you. And a good post, too.

Choco said...

I have bookmarked this one, to come back to... Thank you:)

Amrita said...

I don 't understand baseball bu t the lesson in the story if pretty evident.

Congrats on winning the game.
I also take risks - doesn 't matter if I fail. Took a business risk about 10 days ago. didn 't fail but gave myself (and others) a headache. But I can say I tried and learnt a few things,

I like the title of the post.

I 'd celebrate everyday.

Arkansas Patti said...

Totally loved this post. Fear of failure too often keeps people in the shadows through out their lives. Part of that fear is induced by the must win ethic of sports they are exposed to in childhood.
Think the three mistake rule should be manditory in Little League.
Thanks for the up lift GQ.

Shrinky said...

The world could use a few more with your wisdom in it, dear friend. Oh, so true - I hear tell it takes nine times the amount of praise to negate one instance of critism, that holds true for us adults, just as much as it does with our kids. Such a great post, I am so glad I stopped by.

Wendy said...

What an amazing post! You go coach!! There is way too much emphasis placed on "winning" the game in the little leagues. And almost nothing on learning techniques in a constructive way just plain having fun.
Good for you. Too bad you weren't able to take over more often.

Oh yeah, fear of failure is a big one! (stop looking at me, will ya? LOL!)

Anita Jeyan said...

Being allowed to make 3 mistakes is such a motivating thought! So is this post. Loved it. (Although I dont understand technicalities of the game much).

Brig said...

Great post. There is a real need for more coaches like you. I go to at least 3 games a week (grandkids) and it is often insane what some of the coaches and parents tell their teams. Will find a way to send your bit of wisdom on.

Debra said...

GQ this is an awesome post! I have someone very special I plan to share this withand think it would be very helpful to them. This was definitly worthy of a blog post!

Tall Guy said...

Liked the way you handled the situation. Sometimes the pressure is built up so much that one forgets that they were not having fun as they had before.

Great Job :)

Blunt Edges said...

So when's the movie out?
And the million dollar question: who's gonna play u?

Sandra said...

What a great story! If only people with your attitude coached children, sports would be a positive experience for ALL of them. Hopefully, you've sown some seeds with your idea so that others have adopted it.

Grayquill said...

AngelMc: Winning is enjoyment and losing is plain painful.

GLB: I always love hearing a brother call me smart. I have been tying flies like crazy.

Sylvia K: A kindred spirit – YES!

Linda: Thank you!

Choco: Wow that is a compliment! You’re the best!

Amrita: Yes, it works in many areas a good principle and I am glad I learned it.
Good luck with your business venture.

Arkansas Patti: Your welcome but winning I awesome.

Shrinky: Nine to one – I had not heard that. That is a bunch for sure.

Anita: Yeah, I make at least three mistakes most days.

Brighid: I am jealous - stay warm

Debra: Thank you, those are very nice words!

The Survivor: Thank you!

Blunt Edges: Are you willing?

Sandra: Hmmm….maybe – not sure.