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The Press Box For May 16
May 16, 2018

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If you have a goal that is personally meaningful to you, then your successful completion of this goal depends heavily on how well you handle failure. Keep in mind: Anything worth doing is worth doing badly (at least in the beginning). To achieve excellence, you must first learn to handle your failures!

Want to become a champion? Want to know the one biggest secret to success in and out of sports? Want to know what really separates winners from losers in every sport?

The secret to your athletic success is very simple! If you truly want to reach your athletic dreams, the one thing you have to learn to do better than most everyone else is... fail! Fail? That's right! I said, "Fail!" Failure is the secret, the master key to unlocking the doors to all of your athletic dreams. I know... You think I'm nuts, right? Failure is suppose to be this terrible thing that you want to avoid at all costs. This nasty, humiliating occurrence that destroys lives and kills motivation, right? Wrong! Failure is not as bad as you think!

Understand this: You can't get better as an athlete unless you're willing to fail enough! Why? Because failures, mistakes, and losses tell you what you did wrong and what not to do next time. In this way failures highlight your weaknesses. You can't get better, faster, stronger or more skilled in your sport without knowing your shortcomings. Every time that you fail, lose or mess up, you have an opportunity - if you're smart enough to recognize it, to lift the level of your training. That's the key: recognizing you must do more.

Don't be the athlete who beats themselves up and throws his equipment in disgust after the game and says to himself, "You idiot!"

Failure is nothing more than what you have to do to get there. They tell you exactly what you did wrong and, therefore, what you need to work on to improve. Mistakes and failure supply you with that all important feedback to take you to the next level.

Winners hate failing with a passion. However, they are smart enough to know that failing is an important part of the process. It's what you have to do to get to success.

One final key point about failing and performance: If you are worried about losing or messing up, then chances are good that you will perform badly. You will always do your best when you have absolutely nothing to lose. Losing is nothing more than feedback. Open your eyes and ears and treat your setbacks this way. Learn from them! Don't dwell on them! Then forget them!

It's bases loaded, two out and the bottom of the last inning, when your child steps up to the plate. The team is down by just one run, and a hit here will more than likely win the game. Chance for your child to be a hero and send her team on to the next round of the playoffs. An out here and the season's over with the failure resting squarely on your child's shoulder's. You watch your kid move up to the plate, and you can see the intensity on her face... or is that nervousness? Speaking of nervousness, how are you feeling right about now?

The pitcher seems to wait forever. Finally, there's the wind-up. Here comes the pitch... Your child takes a mighty cut and comes up with nothing but air. STRIKE ONE! You hear a little voice in your head, praying feverishly, "Get a hit! Get a hit!" Here comes the second pitch, and you can see it before it reaches the plate - a high fast ball way out of the strike zone. The child swings anyway, and it now becomes clear to you that your child is too caught up in the pressure of the moment. Why else would she swing at such garbage. Next pitch is just as bad, and the results the same.

What do you do as a parent? Here's my advice on what not to do: Don't offer helpful advice about what they did wrong. (That's the coach's job). If they sincerely ask for your feedback and can use it without getting defensive, then it's fine to say something. Otherwise, mum's the word. Don't criticize your child in any way for failing. (Coach's job again)

Let your child be upset. Disappointment is fine. They earned it; let 'em feel it, as long as they deal with it appropriately.

Be understanding at the right time; wait an hour or two before you say anything.

Offer a perspective on the performance - sometimes you win, sometimes you lose. Let them know bad performances are just part of sports. Everybody has them!

Be supportive. Your primary job with your child in relation to their sports is to be their "best fan."

Let them know that the important things in their lives have not changed and that you love them no matter what.

Encourage them to talk with the coach later on about what they might be able to do to improve or correct in their performance.

A "good" coach sells two things to his/her athletes: the value of hard work and attitude.

So what should you do when your team is playing like garbage, or one of your athletes is messing up left and right? The constructive way of dealing with this situation is to first clearly tell them what they are doing wrong and then spell out exactly what you need them to do in order to get it right.

After that, you want to immediately get them refocused back on the game. If you want them to mentally let go of their mistake during the game, then you have to let go of it too. Remember, you can dwell on the screw-ups all you want the next day in practice.

Athletes always play their best when they have absolutely nothing to lose. Similarly, an athlete or team will play their worst when they are concentrating on how much is at stake and the "what if's" of losing or otherwise screwing up. Be aware that what you say to your athletes before and during the game directly and immediately affects how much of their focus gets caught up in the outcome. The more relaxed attitude you can have on the bench toward mistakes, the easier it will be for your athletes to leave them behind and keep their minds in the flow of the game.

Too many athletes worry about getting benched whenever they make a mistake. Perhaps you, as their coach, have a quick "trigger finger" and pull kids out of the game immediately following a screw-up. If that's your style, fine.

However, what you must do is prepare your athletes ahead of time for this. Let them know this is what you'll do and, when you send them back in, you want their heads back in the game and not on the mistake or whether they are going to get yanked again. The last thing you want your athletes doing in a competitive situation is worrying.

In 1992, world-class decathlete, Dan O'Brien was on track for a gold medal at the Barcelona Olympics. He was the current world champion, had a contract with Reebok sports, and was a sure bet for the US team and another world record at the Olympics. At Olympic Trials, he was in first place after seven events. Pole vault, one of his strongest events, was next. His confidence level was so high he waived the earlier heights. When the competition started at around 8.5 feet, he passed. When the bar got up to 12 feet, he passed and continued to do so until the bar reached 15 feet, 9 inches - his normal starting height. O'Brien ran down the runway for his first jump, planted his pole. and took off. As he did so, out of the corner of his eye, he got distracted by the landing pit, because the padding in it was arranged in an unfamiliar way. As a consequence, he hit the bar. The same exact thing happened on the second jump. Now O'Brien had one jump left, and the pressure was starting to mount.

As he waited on the runway to go, his mind was entertaining a lot of subversive thoughts. "What if I miss this jump? Then I 'no-height' the event and will be disqualified, and I won't make the US team. I won't go to Barcelona, won't be able to win a gold medal and stand to lose millions of dollars in endorsement money. Not to mention the fact that if I don't make the team, I'll make a total fool of myself in front of the world."

I don't think this outcome is too hard to figure out. With all this negativity floating around in Dan's head, he tightened up and missed his third and final jump. He was off the team! This was the biggest case of choking in the history of track and field!

How can such an embarrassing and devastating failure be a good thing? He claimed this failure highlighted weaknesses in two of his events, as well as the fact he wasn't mentally tough enough.

Keep in mind, you don't have to like failing. You can even hate it with a passion. However, you can't really get better in your sport, or anything else you do, unless you fail enough times and then look to these failures for their valuable learnings.

I saw a few failures and a few victories this past week; some teams won, and some teams lost. Some individuals performed well, and others had some problems. For the most part, everyone seemed to respond well to the situation they were in. Coaches handled losing like coaches are supposed to. Kids shook hands and went on about their business. Parents and fans seemed to enjoy the moment, and that's the way it should be. No one wins everytime; someone has to be the loser, someone has to fail. However, if you gave it your all, knowing you did the best you could, you came away a winner.

Keep up the good work, the sun still shines tomorrow. eparsons@tylerstarnews.com

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