A while ago I had a coach rebuke me for telling a gymnast that “they were practicing how to fail” as opposed to, by inference, practicing for success. I agreed that out of context the statement was very negative and could be seen as discouraging.
The full story, however, involved a prior discussion with the athlete that was had outside the presence of the visiting coach, where I explained that success comes when the gymnast makes changes to a performance. When we repeatedly do the same error it perfects the error and makes it the “way” the skill is done. Without adjustments, corrections and changes the performance will continue to be done “wrong.” They will be, in essence, perfecting failure. The product of having made changes is how one arrives at success. To sum up: if we always do what we’ve always done, we will always get what we’ve always got.
But how bad is it to fail? At Gymfinity we have a philosophy of “sometimes you win, and sometimes you learn.” If you are, in fact, learning from failing then every effort is victorious.
The problem comes in when we (I say we because we all fall victim to this) define ourselves by our failures. When we internally reprimand ourselves because we are not doing things right we often label ourselves as the failure. But that only applies to us if we allow it. Things may not turn out as we expected or as we hoped, but that is not the end of our story. We evaluate our performance and assess what needs to be done differently in order to improve. That is, after all the only way that we can progress. We should then be grateful for the occasional failure or set back, because it allows us to value victory, improvement and effort.
When I told the gymnast that she was practicing to fail, it was referencing that she was not making the effort, not stepping outside of her comfort zone, and not processing corrections. She was giving up, pouting, and defining herself as a failure. By doing that she was allowing herself to stop trying and she was molding herself to be a perfect failure.
I expressed to her that she could decide to give up and just be another kid who tried gymnastics, had a little success, but couldn’t move past fear and stress: or she could be the story that everyone tells about the girl who wouldn’t quit. The girl who was determined to succeed, the one who wouldn’t let the frustration define her. She could be that success story, and all it would take would be a minor correction. After all, she is a master at overcoming fear, on beating back doubts, and on succeeding even when it’s difficult because she had done it all before; it’s how she got to where she was. She was in the perfect place to be successful, she just needed to stop the practice of perfecting failure. So within context, “practicing failure” was not demeaning or demoralizing, it was, in fact, a reminder that her focus needed to be on attaining success (improving one small thing at a time). I am happy to report, a year later, that she chose to be successful. She learned the skill, advanced herself and is positioned to be a real team leader.
I am often very proud of my team kids, but never so much as when they become successful; not only over skills, but over themselves, and they do it by using struggle as a tool and a motivator. That personal strength is what makes me most proud of my team and so very proud of our Grayce.