How to Build Confidence and Overcome Fear of Failure and Mistakes in Sports

If you want to know how to build confidence and overcome fear of failure and mistakes in  sports you need to take a new and different look at the concept of “mistakes”. 

Let’s work backwards from the bottom line here.  Ready? Build confidence and overcome fear of failure

Okay … here goes.  Mistakes are GOOD.  Mistakes are your friends.

STOP FEARING YOUR MISTAKES!!!  EMBRACE THEM!!!

Okay, stop.  Stop!!!  Do NOT call the men in the little white jackets and have them come to my house and take me away to some nice quiet place with birds and trees and flowers … but no sharp objects so I won’t hurt myself. 

I am NOT delirious.  Mistakes ARE good.

It’s actually very simple.  Mistakes help you get better.  Mistakes help you make adjustments and improve.  Mistakes actually show you how to build confidence and overcome your fear of failure and mistakes in sports.

How?  Simple … you LEARN from mistakes.  So embrace them.  Welcome them … IN practice AND in games.

I played baseball at a fairly high level for a long time and I actually got to the point where I enjoyed practice MORE than playing in the games.  I relished practice and all that boring repetition … and yes, even making mistakes.  In fact ESPECIALLY making mistakes.  The mistakes showed me how to build confidence.  

It’s true and the reason is simple.  Practice was where I got BETTER. It’s where YOU will get better. It is where you will build confidence.

It’s the place where I could make my mistakes and improve … and all in the comfort and anonymity of the practice field or the gym or my garage or in the dark … or wherever

The games become easy.  Practices .. and mistakes are like putting money into a savings account.  The more you do … the more you fail … get ready, because here comes the punch line … the more you tinker and make mistakes … and learn how to FIX things and make adjustments … the better you will play in the game.

And here is the “key” to all this.  It is your willingness to embrace this “process” which will make you successful. 

Anybody out there ever hear of this little invention called … the “light bulb”?  There is a famous story about the light bulb … about the number of “failed attempts” that Edison made at the light bulb.  I have heard variations of from 1000 to even as many as 10,000 FAILED attempts. 

 That’s right … FAILED attempts.  Zero.  Nada.  Zip.  Mistake.  Mistake.  Mistake.  SOUND in the background of the “buzzer” going off and “the fat lady singing.”

Whatever the number actually was, Edison’s response to the issue of his seemingly endless “failures” bears repeating. 

When asked about all the failures and mistakes, Edison replied that “I have not failed (fill in the number) 1000 times.  I have successfully discovered 1000 ways to NOT make a light bulb.”

Every (supposed) “failure” is simply … drum roll … “INFORMATION” … information from which you can learn … and improve … your performance.

Consider this little factoid … how would you know what is right unless you know what is wrong?

Now I can see (and smell) the smoke coming out of your ears and hear the logic wheels” spinning and the arguments which go something like … “Okay okay …  I’ll accept that.  Ican make mistakes in practice … but not in the game.  I can’t accept mistakes in the game.  Mistakes in the game are what make me nervous. I’m scared to death to make mistakes in the game.” 

I feel your pain and understand the logic and … I have been there.  However … the fact is that …even the games are part of the learning process. 

Why is that?  Why do we as athletes and performers ATTACH so much importance to the games? 

We attach importance because we tell ourselves and everyone else tells us as well (and they tell us extremely often and loudly) that there are CONSEQUENCES.  We will LOSE and when we lose we are (gasp!!! Oh no!!!) … losers!!!

Oh really?

I shouldn’t have to go back to the Edison example but let’s just suppose the real number of failed attempts on the light bulb was 2500 (the number I have heard most often).

So let’s “beam back” in time to Edison working late in his laboratory one night; one long lonely night after YEARS of trying to invent this “darn light bulb thing.”

I mean it’s like 3:30am; he’s tired, hungry, sweaty; his eyes are blurred from lack of sleep and he hasn’t even seen good old Mrs. Edison in over two weeks.  All he can think about is a hot bath, a good meal, and a long night’s sleep and he’s on attempt number 2499 and it goes wrong. 

He jumps up, flings all his tools against the wall, throws his head back and screams at the top of his lungs, “I have HAD IT!!!  The world will just have to settle for gas and candle light for another hundred years.  I am sick and tired of this.  I’m OUTTTA here.”  He turns and marches out the door.  “I’m going to go get me a steak and a beer. I’m through with trying to make the world a better place … and me a multi-millionaire.”

Welllll, let’s just say, “thank God that didn’t happen”, right?

How about … here’s another person you may have heard of; a basketball guy named Michael Jordan; considered by many to be the greatest basketball player of all time. 

Jordan said … “I’ve missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 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.”

Now I realize and I am not diminishing the importance we all place on certain games; playoffs, finals, tournaments, championships, etc.  However here’s another factoid … until you STOP playing “forever” ; as in end your career … guess what?  There will ALWAYS be another game.  Always.   A champion even uses the BIG loss as a way to “inform him as to HOW he can improve.”

Consider the recent success of the Kansas City Royals who, in 2014 had not been to a world series since 1985.  Although respectable through 1994, they were one of the worst teams in major league baseball for twenty years.  They achieved respectability in 2013 and finally … eureka!!! … made it to the world series in 2015.

And lost.

Did they call their mothers?  “Mom, come pick me up.  We lost.  I need to go to my room and cry for six months.”  

Did they quit? 

They did not.  They used the series as a “stepping stone”; build their confidence, fought back and won the world series in 2015.

Ever hear of the Boston Red Sox?  The Chicago Cubs?  The Red Sox ended a drought of world championships that went back to 1918.  The Cubs losing streak went back to 1908.

 Incidentally both teams had playoff wins the year BEFORE their championships but lost in the championship series of their respective leagues.  The Red Sox lost to the Yankees in 2003 and theCubs lost to the Mets in 2015. 

Who’s next?  How about the Cleveland Indians whom the Cubs beat last year and haven’t won since 1948.

Do you think they (a – feel like losers or (b – can’t wait to get back this year.

Stop being fearful of mistakes and accept them as part of the learning process.  There are no failures; just information.

The process works if you work the process.

 

 

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