The Success of Failure

Through my 20+years of coaching athletes, I’ve had the opportunity and privilege to work with many Champion athletes.  In those years, I noticed 2 specific traits of those athletes.

  1. They have a high tolerance for failure.
  2. They fail more often than other athletes.

The second trait stems from them taking risks more often which gives them more failures.  Like Wayne Gretzky said, “You miss 100% of the shots you don’t take.”  This is called Courage.  Everyone must always evaluate the risks they are willing to take and when to take the risks.  The best place I feel for taking risks and building your courage is in your training. 

Most of us only compete in a handful of events per year and typically the event is not a place to “try something new.”   In training, consequences mostly deal with the ego but it’s the perfect time to try pushing yourself over your goal training zones, attacking the group ride, clearing a difficult section of trail, or even trying a new brand of ride nutrition.  If you don’t know where to “try something new”, talk to your coach about the best days to experience this.

Going back to the first trait of a high tolerance for failure, this teaches us to accept failure as part of the process.  It’s the price you pay for pursuing that excellence in oneself.  You can only get this tolerance by failing, meaning you need to get out of your comfort zone and fail once in a while. This failure will make you more adept in accepting the failure.  This is resilience.

Both of these traits together(Courage and Resilience) help us learn and in most cases are a necessary part of success.  We make a mistake. We learn. We improve.  This can come in many forms.  For example, going too hard on interval 1 of 4, typically causes you not to be able to finish all 4 intervals within your goal zone.  But, by going past those limits and experiencing what that feels like will give you a sense of what is too hard or too easy in an effort during your event.

I do understand that failure is hard and can be hard to accept.  What seems like a big failure is still just a passing moment in your life and part of the process of becoming a Champion.  To help you see your failure as a success, I suggest:

  1. Write down the objective facts.  For instance, I got dropped on the first hill.
  2. Write down your subjective experience. For example, I suck.
  3. Write down your feelings about step 2.  For example, I’m disappointed in myself.
  4. Write down objective facts about your response on Step 2.  Most likely none exist.
  5. Write down what you learned.  For example, I need to get better at climbing. Then talk to your coach on developing a strategy to better yourself and to #BeAChampion.