Why Athletes Need to Learn to Fail

Kids play sports because they’re supposed to be fun and help them learn valuable life skills. 

At least, that’s what the outcome is supposed to be; unfortunately, more often than we’d like to admit, certain coaching and parenting styles can sour the experience for someone just starting out a sport.

On the other hand, a good coach or a good parent, who doesn’t helicopter too much or get in a player’s face can be the best teacher they’ll ever have.

We’re going to start with coaches, there are a few simple characteristics that all coaches should exhibit:

  • Take notice of your players physical and mental health and make sure they’re developing physically in the right way
  • When players are first starting to play the game, keep it simple and give them all an equal shot to start
  • Let them fail – the only way to get better is to learn from your mistakes, no one is perfect all of the time
  • Provide positive reinforcement on the flip side. When something goes right, let the team know to balance out all of that failing they’ll probably start with
  • Lead by example with good sportsmanship; the best way to stunt athletic growth is to make a player uncoachable from the start

Now that you know what you should be doing, here are a few tips on what you probably want to avoid as a coach:

  • Yelling at other teams and the refs; remember what we just said about leading by example? This is probably the easiest way to show them
  • Have a win at all cost attitude. Sometimes you’ll lose, don’t make it a habit, but remember that you’re not Bill Belichick
  • Disrespect players or allow disrespect between teammates. They need to see that you’re a family, and no matter how hard things get, you can always rely on each other
  • Play favorites or criticize less talented players. This is another way to stunt a player’s growth. If you don’t give him enough time on the field, he’ll start to believe how bad he is

Now we move over to the parents. Coach, you’re not off the hook yet- parents need coaching too. A lot of them probably haven’t done this before, and you’ve been doing this for at least a few seasons now. 

Parents have always had a keen interest in their child’s activities and want them to do their best. However, some parents, coined by the name “Helicopter Parents”, are always hovering over their children, never allowing them to succeed or fail on their own. They are at games yelling instructions to their child, instructions that many times are contrary to the coaches. They call and email the coaches about their child’s playing time and blame others if their child fails.

Sometimes these “Helicopter Parents” can actually be the coach of the team which can create some additional problems. But most times they are not which leads us back to the coach being able to communicate and provide expectations for all parents.

A good youth sports coach will have a meeting or communication ready at the beginning of the season to review with all of the parents. Some basic guidelines should be set such as not yelling at the child or the officials, providing positive feedback to their child and the team and trying to encourage the child to have fun.

However, even by setting guidelines there will still be questions or concerns that will come up throughout the season. Coaches should be available and provide contact information for parents for those times. By communicating with parents it can help to explain and answer some of their questions and concerns.

Keep in mind that the goal of youth sports is to have fun and enjoy the experience. No child will be guaranteed a scholarship or professional contract by their success at that level.

Keep it simple, fun, fair and enjoyable. That should be the goal.