Strike Outs, Air Balls, and Dropped Passes: How to Help Your Kids Fail Successfully

These days organized sports are everywhere you turn – especially if you are a parent. Citing a study by the Sports and Fitness Industry Association, ESPN has reported that over 21 million kids between the ages of 6 and 17 participate in league sports.  That’s a huge number! And the actual number is probably much larger when you consider kids under the age of 6 and those participating in unreported leagues. Given those numbers, it’s a safe bet that your children participate, to some degree, in organized sports – and that’s great! What’s not great is that helpless, gut-wrenching feeling you get when your child buries his face in his glove after letting a ground ball roll between his legs, watches the third strike fly by, or kicks what could be the game winning field goal only to have the ball sail wide left by inches. Think about how you feel when you see this happen. Is your child going to feel 100 times worse? Is it going to phase your child at all? Failure is an inevitable part of any sport- it’s what you do with your child’s failure that matters.

Every child will react differently to failure. Knowing your child’s temperament is the first step to helping her fail successfully. Some kids step off the field after playing a terrible game and their only thought is “Should I get a purple or a blue snow-cone?” Others will harp over mistakes for days. Although it is important to let your child know that you’re there to support and encourage her (win or lose), a kid who takes failure really hard may need more than that.

If you really want your child to be successful both on and off the field, teach him how to fail in a positive way. This means channeling that failure in positive directions so that it is seen as motivation and feedback rather than as a source of shame and doubt. Even as adults, we know that the fear of failure can be paralyzing. If a child is obsessing over “not messing up” while she’s at the free throw line, her mind is in the wrong place. If your son stands at the plate worried about striking out, the chances are great that he will.

Many children involved in competitive sports place high expectations on themselves.  They daydream about hitting the game winning homerun, throwing the game winning touchdown, or dunking on their weary opponent. When children don’t actually meet their expectations, they come down hard on themselves and lose confidence pretty quickly. Sound familiar?? Teaching these kids to view failure in a different light can vastly improve their sense of self. After all, mistakes are just learning opportunities in disguise. Once your child learns to accept that mistakes happen even on good days and to great players, she will be more able to stay composed and “shake it off” without feeling beat up by the failure.