Last week we started a new concept for our posts, Themes of the Week for all three mediums through which I come to you. Each week I will have a similar theme in my quotes on Mondays on my Great Quotes for Coaches podcast, my videos on Wednesdays over on my SlamDunk Success YouTube Channel, and here in my blog posts on Fridays.

The theme last week was Public Failure, and I decided to continue in that vein a bit this week and talk about Responding to Failure.

As I said last week, we are all going to fail at times. We’re human. It comes with the territory. The most important thing is not that we fail, but how we deal with the failure when it happens.

Whenever we fail at something or make a mistake, we must not wallow in it, hang our heads and sulk, or get caught up in the failure. As quickly as possible, we must get up, dust ourselves off (so to speak), and start doing what we need to do to move ahead.

There is not failure when we handle it that way; there is learning.

When we approach each situation we find ourselves in where we have made a mistake or failed in some way as an experience from which we can learn things, we are not failing. We are simply learning how to do something the right way or a better way so that we don’t make the same mistake or go through the same type of loss again.

Failure is one of the best teachers we will ever meet. While I as a teacher and coach can teach my kids how to do some skill or understand some concept or strategy, they will not fully comprehend it or master it until they go through some elements of trial and error with it. They must make an attempt to perform it, fail at the attempt (usually multiple attempts), come back and try again, fail again, and so on before they fully grasp exactly what success at it means.

Yes, there will be certain skills or knowledge that they will pick up on their first attempt. But those moments are rare, especially when what they are trying to learn or perform is a bit complicated or difficult.

And quite honestly, it is often in the failure, followed by the rising up to try again, where the best learning, understanding, and growth take place.

A Model of What “Failure” Looks Like

I am coaching 7th grade girls’ basketball right now. I have a girl who plays point guard on our team. She is a good athlete, but basketball is not her #1 sport. Still, most people, myself included, would consider her our best player. But she has struggled with her left-handed dribbling since the start of our season a month ago.

However, each week, I have seen improvement from her. The biggest area of improvement has been in her commitment to try to use her left hand in games.

In our game last night, she often made a crossover dribble move from her right hand to her left with a defender close to her (That move has been a challenge for her, too.) In previous games, the ball would be stolen or dribbled off of her left knee or foot.

But last night, she was getting around her defender, getting into the lane, and either crossing it back over to her right hand for a shot or continuing to go to the basket with her left hand for a layup, sometimes shooting it with her left hand. YESSSS!!

This girl did not give up when she was getting the ball stolen or dribbling it off of her leg during the first three games of the year. She just kept working on the move in practice and then trying to use the move in games. She has started to break through to success.

Does that mean she has it mastered? No.

Does that mean she won’t ever have failure at that move again? No.

She will need to continue to work on it, so she gets so good with it that she is comfortable with it in all kinds of situations. At that point she will feel a level of mastery at it where she will not worry at all about the failure, even when the inevitable failure occurs. She will just pick herself up and try again, knowing that she now has a move in her arsenal that she can count on working for her most of the time.

Oh, and by the way, I have already given her another, more difficult, move—a behind-the-back dribble—to work on to help her have even more ways to succeed. She will go through a whole new level of failure for a long time as she tries to learn and master this new move.

But once again, I am confident that she will continue to work on that move until she gets to a point where she starts to try it, use it often, and then consistently succeed at it in games.

It’s a Process

This is the process of learning. You are taught something, and you practice it. You fail at it, but you keep practicing it. You keep failing at it, and you keep practicing it. You then start to see some success. You keep practicing while trying it out in some actual competitive environments. You fail at it, but you keep trying it.

And then, you finally have some success. You keep trying it and the success rate goes up until you are comfortable enough at it that you use it on a very consistent basis.

And then you are asked to move on to something more advanced and more difficult with more failure.

OH, NO! Not again!

Yep. That’s how it works. That is the journey of success.

And there is no journey you will ever take that is sweeter and more satisfying. The key is that you never stop traveling on this journey. It will take you to more places and bring you more joy than any other trip you will ever take in your life.

Enjoy the journey!