Learning from failure: How to not let setbacks define you as an athlete

Crunch time. Win or go home. Everything is on the line to put your team on top, and every mistake is amplified because it is the final seconds of the game. Many people tend to faulter under this enormous pressure: Turning the ball over, giving up a homer in the bottom inning, missing the game winning shot. All of these are athletes worst nightmares, and they would never wish it upon anyone, let alone themselves. We hate failure, but what if I told you that failure is actually a gift?

Being hard on yourself is a natural reaction to letting people down; I know that feeling more than anyone. In high school I was having a fantastic year on my football team. It felt like every game I was playing great and was doing everything I could to help my team win. I was named All-District, and my numbers that year were comparable to some of the best receivers in the state. I felt fantastic heading into the playoffs.

But the playoffs had a different idea for me. I ended up having my worst game of the year, and I remember my stat line distinctly: One catch, seven total yards, three dropped possible touchdowns. I remember hearing the final buzzer and crying on the bench with my head down, speaking to nobody, becoming a weeping ball of self-negativity.

In my mind I was a complete failure. I let my team down and couldn’t perform when the game actually mattered. All of my fellow seniors wouldn’t be able to bask in the glory of going out with a bang in their final year, and it was all my fault. I sat on that bench for what felt like hours and left the stadium emptier than I had ever felt in my life prior to that. I didn’t go to school the next day because I didn’t want to have to approach anyone on my team; the feeling of guilt would have just been too much for me to stand.

Finally, I managed to go to school and face my fears. I wasn’t acting like myself, obviously still depressed about the game, and people noticed. Then, one day, a coach came up to

me and gave me the best advice of my life. He told me, “Failure is temporary. If you are really as competitive as you say you are, you will come back better because of that failure. Don’t settle … elevate.”

Those words have been my motto till this day. People are so willing to let one failure bring them underneath and keep them there for the rest of their lives, but as athletes we  can’t do that. We may drop a pass, or miss the game winning jump shot, but that doesn’t mean we can’t learn from these failures and get better. Every time something doesn’t go our way on the field, court, or wherever you play, I challenge you, instead of being down on yourself, to evaluate the situation and encourage yourself to get better, because you can. There is no failure in life that can hold you down forever, so why even give it the opportunity?

Failure is temporary. Growth is continuous. I can promise you if I had let that failure in high school hold me down, I would have never become the player that I am now. Every athlete has the gift of being able to learn from their mistakes. Instead of crumbling under these minor setbacks, let’s manifest into our minds fantastic comebacks.


alada1@stolaf.edu