BY TAYLOR THOMAS
As athletes, we’re presented with countless opportunities to fail—and that’s a good thing.
Learning to process, cope, and accept failure is important for everyone — but it’s essential for athletes, as we’re constantly presented with opportunities (from races to workouts) to fail. Ideally, athletes will come to accept that failure is a valuable part of life and sport, but many fear failure instead.
In your training, have you ever noticed that you fall into patterns of bad attitude, missed workouts, damaging eating habits, or excuses related to less-than-ideal performance? Could these be linked to a more deeply-rooted fear of failure? Here’s how to mentally commit despite the potential for failure, and maintain the strong mental game required for athletic success.
Why Are You Afraid to Fail?
First and foremost, ask yourself, “what makes me afraid of failure?” The answer to this question, if you’re honest, can reveal both the root cause of your fear and the first step in getting over it.
For example, fear of failure often stems from a fear of letting down friends, family, coaches, or anyone who has a vested interest in your success. Athletes put in countless hours training, and the higher their level of commitment, the more support that individual will require from their support network. This can create a crushing sense of pressure to perform.
Other athletes fear failure because they have unrealistic expectations for themselves, are seeking external validation, or fear giving up control in competition. Whatever your reason, uncovering the root cause of your attitude towards failure is paramount in achieving your goals.
What’s Gotten in Your Way Before?
Once you’ve figured out (and hopefully addressed!) the cause of your fear of failure, you can use past setbacks to find ways to propel yourself forward instead of holding yourself back. These past experiences can be valuable tools when untangling and learning from a perceived failure.
For example, sometimes it feels easier to get in our own way than to face the fact that failure is a real possibility. Have you ever found yourself “failing” before you’ve truly failed? Maybe you trained too hard, or you let logistics get the best of you, or sabotaged your nutrition, knowing you wouldn’t be at your best on race day. Honestly addressing the factors that contributed to a failure can help you learn from them and use them positively.
Tools for Mental Health
We all deal with fear and doubt, but successful athletes have an arsenal of practices to help confront negative circumstances and maintain a positive attitude. Once you’ve found the root cause of your fear of failure, and taken steps to address common setbacks you’ve run into, you’ve got to maintain a good relationship with the potential for failure in your life. Use these simple tools to keep yourself on the right track:
BE RELENTLESSLY POSITIVE
Positive self-talk is always a good place to start. This helps solidify positive thinking, and in turn, can lead to positive performance. Whether you’re in the middle of a workout, telling a friend about it, or even just looking at your calendar, be relentlessly positive about your training and racing — and watch your failures become valuable lessons.
MAKE REASONABLE GOALS
It’s important to ensure your training approach is appropriate for your ability level, goals, and schedule. Tackling workouts that are too difficult, not timed properly, or that don’t take other responsibilities into consideration can quickly dig yourself into a deep hole. Failure is a part of every process, but setting yourself up for success goes a long way as well.
CHOOSE YOUR TRAINING PARTNERS WISELY
Don’t think you’re alone in these struggles! A strong support group is critical to your success and longevity in endurance sports. Positive, resilient friends, training partners, and coaches can be the difference between a healthy and unhealthy athlete. They can also be great sources of inspiration — look to people you admire for examples on handling failure.
Facing failure is hard. It’s a challenge athletes and non-athletes both struggle with on a daily basis. The pressure to perform can be a motivating tool, but if not cultivated properly, it can easily turn into a debilitating fear of failure. Use your own experiences to become mentally stronger and set up opportunities for success. Surround yourself with positive and supportive people who believe in you and your direction. Very few things in life are guaranteed, so accepting the possibility of failure can remove some of the pressure we put on ourselves and allow us to focus on productive routes forward.