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The Fruits of Failure

By Brett Klika

I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”
~ Michael Jordan

It’s a well established fact in any competitive environment. Winning is better than losing. We compete to win. The implications of winning feed our sense of competency and justify the process by which we reach competition. The implications of losing are the antithesis of this. For anyone who has taken part in competition of any kind, losing hurts. It haunts, it stings, it……teaches? When you listen to the most successful people in sports, business, and other competitive environments, they all discuss the role of their failures in their successes. They all have competed and lost, many times in their career. They attribute their success however to what they learned from each loss or failure. Consider this revelation when we look at the process of competition with young athletes.

Please take note that in the above paragraph, I used the word “process” when referring to competition. For young athletes, competition is a very important process. Their experience with athletics will shape their views on competition for the rest of their lives. All too often, we make the mistake of viewing competition with youth as an “end all, be all”. If you lose, you are a failure. If you win, you are a success. Although there is some inherent truth to this, the all- or- nothing approach breads a dysfunctional mind-set in regards to winning and losing. On one end, no one wants to be considered a failure so they learn to externalize and play the “blame game”. They lost because of the referee, the coach, their teammates, etc. It’s easier than owning up to the implication of losing, “someone is better than you”. I sit in consultations and listen to parents feed into this all the time. On the other end, we eliminate the chance of failure all together. Everyone gets trophies, everyone wins, we don’t want to play games in P.E. because someone might lose. We then wonder why our young generation is not resilient to failure.

As parents and coaches, we have a very powerful influence on how our youth respond to the process of competition. It’s important that we not only help our youth celebrate success, but reflect on failure. It’s important to discuss what they learned from a particular loss. It’s our job as a parent or coach to guide them through this process. Don’t allow them to externalize. What do they feel they could do better next time? What are they going to do to improve? We may have to guide them to the realization that someone may be better than them at whatever they are doing. There very well may have been external factors that affected the outcome of a competition. Just like in a work environment however, don’t bad-mouth your superiors to your inferiors. If there is an objective external problem such as extremely incompetent refereeing, poor coaching, or inferior teammates, you may need to deal with it pro-actively as an adult. This can be done in a concise, professional manner. Gossiping and making excuses in front of the kids only feeds the dysfunctional mind-set towards competition.

Neither one of my parents had ever competed in anything athletic in their lives. To their credit, and consequently, my benefit, they saw athletic competition as a very logical process. As a soccer goalie, I’d come off the field after a rough game cursing the referee, my teammates, the coach’s decisions, you name it. The thought of my inferiority to the presented demands of competition was not something I wanted to face. My parents would be supportive, but would shut down the external stuff real quick. “The referee didn’t let the goals in. You’re defensive line won’t always be air-tight. What do YOU need to work on?” This wasn’t easy to hear, and would be usually followed by a compensatory pout session. The truth is hard to take sometimes. My favorite coach in high school was my track coach. His meticulous and logical approach to training turned me on to the idea of being a professional coach. I remember after one frustrating race in the 400, taking 4th and missing a PR, I went over to him. My ego needed some stroking. I had some moderate shin splints, so I was also looking for some “poor you”. Our team needed me to finish in the top 3 for the points, and I should have. I remember he looked at me, looked at my time on the clip board, and staring a hole through my head said “I need you to run that faster next time. How are you going to do that?” He wanted to hear my account of the race. He listened, and provided his constructive retort. No yelling, only objective information. I didn’t end up going to state that year, but continued to PR at every meet. I learned from important influences that the process of competition involved reflecting on how I could continually improve.

If our youth continue to participate in athletics, at some point they will lose, they will fail to make a team, they will have a bad game, they will make a critical error, they will experience some degree of injury, in addition to a host of other “failures”. After athletics, they will get a bad grade, fail to get a job they want, be dumped by a boyfriend or girlfriend, receive criticism from a superior, and come across someone who’s desired skills are superior to theirs. These are inevitabilities of the human condition. It is our job as parents, coaches, and mentors to teach our young athletes, through the process of athletic competition, how to turn these failures into successes.

Coach Brett Klika is the Director of Athletic Performance at Todd Durkin’s Fitness Quest 10 in San Diego, CA. He specializes in youth fitness and athletic performance, overseeing a staff of 8 strength coaches developing programs for over 300 youth per week, both athletes and non-athletes. He presents around the world to both trainers and corporations with Todd Durkin Enterprises on a variety of health, wellness, and athletic performance topics. Brett contributes monthly to the award-winning “TD Times” newsletter. If you would like to sign up, you can do so by visiting, or use the contact form below: [easy-contact]

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