In Becoming a Champion, Handling Failure/Adversity

Kids complain when things get tough out there. “It’s too hot.” Our field sucks!” “We just don’t have the same advantages that the other teams in the league have.” “Our equipment is a joke!” etc. Parents complain to the coaches, “Practices are too long.” “You’re pushing the kids too hard!” “You expect far too much from the boys.” “You shouldn’t be having doubles. they can’t take it!” What gives?

I understand that sometimes coaches can over-work their players. I understand that sometimes coaches can be physically and emotionally abusive. This blog is not about those coaches or conditions. It is, instead about the healthy need for hardship, suffering and frustration in order to “grow” a champion. You can’t get to any meaningful goal or accomplish anything worthwhile in your life without a healthy dose of physical and emotional suffering mixed in along the way.

All too often parents want to protect their children from intensely hard work, crushing setbacks and disappointing failure. They don’t want to see their child unhappy and so naturally do everything in their power to try to make things just a little bit easier for their child-athlete. Parents don’t want to see their child frustrated and struggling with doubts and low self-confidence.

Unfortunately, in wanting to help and protect their children, parents have inadvertently hindered and even stunted their offspring’s emotional and athletic development. How?

It’s like the metaphor of the man who found a cocoon lying in the grass. When he picked it up to examine it, he noticed a tiny hole forming on one of the sides and as he looked inside, he could see the soon-to-be butterfly struggling mightily to free itself from the confines of its’ temporary prison. Clearly the hole was far too small for the butterfly to emerge so the man, in thinking that he would be helpful, took out his penknife and enlarged the hole so the butterfly could easily emerge.

And emerge it did! Except it’s body was deformed and still too caterpillar-like and its’ wings were small and malformed. The man waited around for the butterfly to spread its’ wings and fly, but this never happened. The stunted butterfly spent the remainder of its’ days crawling around, unable to get off the ground .

It turns out that in the natural struggle to free itself from the chrysalis, the butterfly sheds its’ fat, caterpillar body and develops the large graceful wings that will enable it to fly. It’s the struggle that is necessary for normal and healthy development. Robbed of that struggle by the man’s “helpfulness,” the butterfly was permanently crippled and never able to get to fly.

Athletes: Frustration, setbacks and hardships are necessary for you to develop strength, skill and endurance. You don’t learn to get tough without going through tough times. Frustration and disappointment are simply temporary road markers on the highway to your dreams.

Parents: Remember that developing butterfly! Do not try to protect your child from hard work, disappointment, failure and frustration. These experiences make them stronger and form the foundation of their motivation and ultimate success. Frustration and setbacks make athletes “hungrier” for mastery and success. It’s the struggle that builds character, resilience and toughness. Do NOT take that away from them!

There’s a saying in swimming that comes to mind here. ANYTHING THAT DOESN’T KILL YOU MAKES YOU STRONGER! As extreme as this cliche is, it’s true about sports and true about life experiences!


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