What to Do if Your Child is Afraid to Fail | Q&A With Coach Rebecca

Today’s Topic: What to Do if Your Child is Afraid to Fail

Hi everyone.  I’m Rebecca Smith, founder and director of Complete Performance Coaching and the Perform Happy Community.  I am one of six coaches on the Complete Performance Coaching staff.  You can find us online and work with us virtually through Facetime or Skype.  You can also find us in the Perform Happy Community if you want more.

Fear of Failure

Today I’m going to talk to you about failure and what to do if your child is afraid to fail.  Failure is one of those things that I hear about all day, every day.  It’s one of those fears that I would say most humans have, especially humans who are really committed to doing things well.  We care, we invest time, energy, emotion, and money into these sports that we participate in and then there’s this thing on the line called failure.

How to Embrace Failure

There are a ton of young athletes out there who are afraid to fail, and I would say there’s a ton of adults out there who are also afraid to fail, so that’s what I’m going to be addressing today.  I’ll be teaching you some ways that you as a family can help a young perfectionist learn to embrace failure, and also how the whole family can nurture this idea of embracing failure so that you’re creating stepping stones to success.  The family plays a big part in either helping or hurting an athlete’s success in this department, as far as being able to look at failure as something constructive and useful.

What is Failure

First, I want you guys to think about what failure is to you.  Define failure for yourself.  I ask this in one of my live member trainings in the Perform Happy Community and we get all kinds of responses from getting a bad score, falling, and making a mistake, to letting people down, disappointing myself, and disappointing my coaches.

What do you consider failure?  I know we throw this around a lot, saying, “I’m afraid to fail.”  Okay, but what does that actually mean?

When I first went back to school, I was afraid to fail.  I called a friend of mine two weeks into my first psychology class and said, “It’s hard and I don’t know what to do.  I don’t think I can do this.”  She said, “You know what, why don’t you just do the work and go tomorrow.”

She helped me break it down and just said, “Why don’t you just go tomorrow and don’t worry about the whole ‘it’s going to be hard’ and all that stuff.”  She kept saying, “Just go tomorrow.”

Pushing Through Fear

I did.  I kept going and I finished my Bachelors degree in psychology.  From there, I went on to get my Masters degree.  For the entire seven year process of getting my degrees, I called the same friend.  It was two or three weeks in and I called saying, “It’s too hard. I can’t handle it.  It’s too much.  I should just stop right now.”   She would say, “You know what, why don’t you just go tomorrow?  Why don’t you not worry about the whole semester or the whole seven year plan, and just go tomorrow?”

When Your Dream is on the Line

Every time I’d call her I’d break down because I was afraid to fail.  I knew in my heart, since I was 12 years old, that I wanted to be a sports psychologist.  I wanted to work with gymnasts, with young girls, with 12-year old girls who are afraid and need help and need tools so they can build confidence.  My heart pounded every time I started to think about that dream but for me, there was this big thing on the line.

If I settled for a job that was just okay or one that I didn’t love, then I could blame that if I wasn’t happy.  But if I went for this big dream, and I really put myself out there and I started my own business, and I decided that I was going to follow my dream, the fear of failure got even higher – what if I failed at my dream?  If I failed at something else, it wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but what if I failed at my absolute life’s passion dream?

Support System

Luckily, I had these people around me who were saying, “Okay, A.  You’re not going to fail.  B, if you do fail, we still love you.”  It was so important to know I had people supporting me.  I had people saying, “Why don’t you just show up tomorrow?  Why don’t you stop thinking about the whole big picture and just do the next thing that you can think of to do?  Just focus on that next skill or that next class or that next competition.  Whatever it is, focus on just what’s in front of you and don’t worry so much about this whole big seven year plan.”

Those of you who are 11 and thinking about college, because I know you’re out there, just do tomorrow. Why don’t you just show up tomorrow and don’t worry about it so much.

Trying to be Perfect

But then there was also these little mini failures that happened along my path where I would  get a 77% on a statistics test and I was furious because I was riding toward my passion.  I was thinking I had to be perfect.  I was so mad!  But what happened was I let being mad fuel me to tell myself it wasn’t going to happen again.

I went back, I studied, and I talked to the teacher.  I told him, “I thought I had this figured out,”and he explained to me where I had gone wrong.  Ugh.  I had to put my tail between my legs and realize I did it wrong.

For the rest of that semester, I got nothing but 90 plus on every single exam.  I got the highest score in the class, because I told myself I wasn’t going to fail at this because it was hard.  I was just going to show up tomorrow and try to be perfect.

Obviously, that put a little extra stress on me and at one point I got a B in a class.  I actually had a therapist who said, “What a success!  You lived a little.  You lightened up. Hooray!”  Sometimes I’ll say to clients, “Yay!  You were imperfect and you didn’t die, this is fantastic.”

Just Show Up

Back to how to get through the fear of failure.  One way, like I mentioned, is just show up tomorrow.  Just keep it really simple.  Don’t worry about the whole thing, just do the next thing in front of you.

Seeing the Value in Failure

Looking at the value of failure is really important.  Parents and families, I recommend sharing your failures.  Talk to your young athletes about things that you failed at that you learned from.  Tell them about the lessons that you’ve learned.  Not only is this really good for bonding, but I can tell you, it’s so amazing to hear that your parents are human and that they made mistakes.  It’s good for children to see their parents failed, and look, they’re doing fine, so it must not be the biggest, scariest thing.

Fear of Disappointment

Honestly, the biggest thing that gives people performance anxiety, and a lot of time mental blocks, is that they’re afraid of letting their parents down.  They’re afraid of disappointing their parents or they’re afraid of disappointing their teammates or their coaches.  There’s this mentality of, “If I fail, I’m failing these people and I’m then not okay and I’m not lovable”, and that has to be dismantled.

You have to Fail to Succeed

If you think about it, any sport that you do, you fail a thousand times for every success.  I go back to gymnastics and thinking about the kip. I f you’re a gymnast, you know about the kip.  It takes you six months to a year or sometimes even longer to get this one skill. You fall, you fall, you fall, you try, you try.  You rip your hands to pieces, you try and try and try, you fall, you fall, you fall.  Then finally, one day, everyone’s saying, “Come on, you’re so close!”  You get up on that bar and then the whole gym goes nuts because you did it, but they don’t really count those 25,000 kips that you had already tried.

If you go at something thinking you can’t fail, well then what are you going to do? There’s no way you can get anywhere without failing in basically any sport.  You fail and fail and fail to help you learn to course correct.

Failure Toss

I’m going to run you guys through a quick exercise that I like to do with clients that I call failure toss.  If you want to participate, you don’t have to do it right now, you can do it later.  Grab a piece of paper and fold it hot dog style because that’s my favorite way to fold paper.  Hot dog style is right down the middle.

Now, set a timer for five minutes and write down on the left side column as many failures as you can think of in your life.  Start with sport – any time you got a bad score, made a mistake, fell, had a bad attitude.  Whatever it was, write down all your failures.  Then you can go to school, to social life, just keep going until you’ve written down every single failure that you can possibly remember in your entire life and just write, write, write.

Take Your Time

You might be done in a couple of minutes, you might need to keep going beyond five minutes, but really give it at least a few minutes of writing down and keep thinking.  Keep thinking and writing, writing, writing.

When you’re finished, you’re going to go to the other column.  For each of those failures, I want you to write down three bits of wisdom that you got from that failure.  Not just one, but three for each one.  At least two, but if you can get three or even more, great.

Let’s use my statistics class as an example.  What did I get from that C on that test in statistics?  Statistics is not natural for me, I need a little extra help.  I have to ask the teacher and I need a study buddy.  That’s what I learned from that – I learn from teaching.  Because that’s the way I learn, I kind of picked the guy next to me who got a F and said, “We’re doing this together,” and he said, “Okay, sure.”

I basically taught him statistics for the rest of the semester so that I could learn it.  Did he really get it?  No idea, but I did, because I really had to explain it to him and break it down.  I learned how I learn, I learned exactly what I needed to learn for the test, and I learned how the tests went.  I learned a bunch from this one really frustrating situation.

Comparing Failures to Wisdom

Once you go through your failures and write down all the wisdom, you’re going to notice that your wisdom list is three times as long (at least) as your failures list.  Give it another five minutes.  Set a timer, go through, and write down as many wisdoms as you possibly can.  When you finish, take a look at your two lists, and make a choice.  You’re going to tear it down the middle and decide which list you’re going to keep and which list you’re going to throw away.

Make a Choice

You get a choice: you can keep them both, you can keep your failures and toss your wisdom.  Or you can keep your wisdom and toss your failures, or you can toss them both.  I love for people to do this as a family.  You don’t have to share it with each other.  It’s actually better if you don’t because then you can really write down all the stuff.  If you feel like you want to, you totally can, but you write them all down and then fold it over and share your wisdom with your family before you throw it.

You don’t have to say what you learned it from, but share all the wisdom that you got and then decide – throw, keep, whatever works for you, and have a little discussion on why.

Now why did you throw away your wisdom?  Why did you keep your wisdom and throw away your failure?  Why did you keep them both?  Have a really nice discussion where you say, “Well, I decided to keep my wisdom and toss my failures,” or, “I decided to keep my failures because I want to remember them” or, “I decided to throw away both because they’re both in my heart and in my mind.”

Have a Discussion

Whatever you guys decide will be a nice conversation to have, so go forth and try this with your family, or if you’re a coach, do it with your team.  This can be a really powerful discussion, but make sure that you’re keeping those failures private so that everyone doesn’t have to share them with each other.  It’s great to share your wisdom because that’s what we’re really after.  Then after a “failure”, have this little exercise.  “What are three things we learned from this?”

Addressing “Failure”

If you’re riding home in the car, first of all, your kid probably doesn’t want to talk about it.  If you’re at a point where the emotion has gone and it’s time to reassess and reflect, you can say, “What are three things you learned from it?”  In a kind way, don’t say it like, “Well, what’d you learn from that?”  That’s just going to make it worse.  Watch your tone when you’re talking about failure because that’s a really touchy subject.

You can make it a game and see if this can bring a little bit more to light about the value of failure, because if you’re afraid to fail then you definitely can’t win.

Please try that.  If you have questions for me, you can always e-mail me at Rebecca@performhappy.com.  If you want to join our wonderful community of do it yourself mental training, you can check out PerformHappy.com.  If you’re looking for one-on-one support through gymnastics season, baseball season, diving, swimming, cheerleading, really any sport, we have coaches for everything, then go over to CompletePerformanceCoaching.com/schedule and grab yourself a free 20-minute coaching call with one of our amazing coaches.

Thanks for being here today.  I will see you soon.

Is your gymnast struggling with mental blocks or fear?  Check out my FREE resource for parents.