The difference between good and great performance? The ability to deal with failure

I’m half way through reading Michael Finnegan’s ‘They Did You Can’ which talks about the importance of mental strength and determination over talent in delivering great performances; surely a great message to pass onto young people.  I would like to share a few techniques Finnegan promotes in his book that I have read so far that can be successfully used to help kids bounce back from failures and mistakes.  If only I knew these before now, I’d be a world class rugby player! (Ok, maybe not, but I certainly would have benefited from them).

1.  Life is 10% fact (natural talent, background etc), 90% attitude (determination, hard work, ability to improve) (pg 55).  How many of us have known great, talented junior players who have not made it through a lack of a great attitude? I can!

2. The ‘Snap Out’ (pg 56) – This technique is to be used when we make a mistake, which in a competetive situation or game may be once every 5 minutes.  Here, after a mistake is made, we do not beat ourselves up and use negative language ie. ‘Why me?’ ‘What’s the point?’ ‘I’m rubbish’ etc.  Instead, we create positive feelings by using more positive language ie. ‘Move on; its gone; its over; forget it’

So, what other ways can we help kids deal with and overcome failures?  Because let’s face it, in sport and life, there is one constant; failure is a regular occurence, whether you’re a world class athlete, teacher or a student.

Jim Thompson, founder of the Positive Coaching Alliance ( based in the USA, has helped train over 450 000 adults, mainly youth sports leaders and coaches, in the importance of helping kids cope with failures.  The core of P.C.A.’s approach is to train a ‘double goal’: coaches who balance the goal of winning, with the second, and more important, goal of teaching life lessons.

Here are Thompson’s key points in coping with mistakes:

1.  If a child misses a big play, it’s a perfect opportunity to talk about resiliency,” explains Thompson. “‘I know you’re disappointed and I feel bad for you, but the question is what are you going to do now? Are you going to hang your head? Or are you going to bounce back with renewed determination?

2.  The single most important thing we do is help coaches teach kids not to be afraid to make mistakes

3.  The Power of ‘Flushing’: P.C.A. encourages coaches to establish a “mistake ritual”.  One technique, adopted by many, is teaching players to “flush” their mistakes. Using a hand gesture that mimics flushing a toilet, a coach can signal from the sideline and players can signal to each other. “So the kid looks at the coach and the coach goes: ‘Flush it.’ The teammates are saying: ‘Hey, Flush it, we’ll get it back.’ And the kid plays better. Because if you’re not beating yourself up, you can focus on the next play.” After the game, the coach can talk to the player about what happened and why.

4. The ‘Magic Ratio’ ― the ideal ratio of positive (i.e. tank filling) statements to criticism ― should be 5 to 1.

The original article on The PCA, from the New York Times, can be found here:  Positive Coaching Alliance: New York Times

Finally, have a look at these 2 inspirational videos.  The first, is a Nike advert featuring the best basketballer ever, Michael Jordan.  The second features numerous successful ‘failures’ who went on to prove people wrong…




One Response to The difference between good and great performance? The ability to deal with failure

  1. carole harding says:

    This struck a chord with me as I feel that too often the school system/we teachers do not adequately prepare our ‘gifted and talented’ pupils for ‘failure’. It is so important to provide challenge and build resilience and determination whatever aspect of the curriculum. Children and young people need to learn that it is ok to ‘fail’ and to value and learn from the process as much as the end result. If we don’t do this, the first time that a child ‘fails’ could be the last time they try.

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