Embracing Failure is a Vital Part of Success
By Darren Fenster
Soon after the ball is placed in our hands and the bat on our shoulders, we are quickly introduced to the beautiful frustration of our sport, not as our national pastime, but as a game of failure. The sheer mass of failure in our game makes it that much different than all the rest. You’ve heard it a million times: the very best in baseball are FAILING seven out of every 10 times. And in the heat of competition, that statistical nugget does very little to ease the pain of yet another 0-fer.
But to the very best in the game, that failure can be a player’s greatest opportunity, or to those who decide to hang up the spikes, it can be their career’s death sentence. The fortunate part of it all is we are afforded a choice as to how exactly we get to handle our lack of success. We can choose to embrace the struggle and see it as an awesome chance to get better, or we can choose to wilt under the mounting pressure and not getting the job done.
So why should we welcome something that tears us up inside?
Simple: because failure gives us five things that will help shape us not only into better players and coaches on the field, but even better people off of it.
FAILURE KEEPS US GROUNDED.
Baseball is a very humbling game. It’s also an extremely challenging game, a fact often forgotten during hot streaks and championship runs. The second a player or coach thinks they have the game all figured out is usually right around the moment when it kicks you in the gut and stomps on you when are rolling around on the ground. Getting humbled is a very good thing, because it is a constant reminder that we don’t know it all, and there is always work to be done.
FAILURE BREEDS TRUST.
Players are stubborn sometimes. And so are coaches, for that matter. For those on the field, failure often breeds a trust in coaches when players come to their own realization that their way truly isn’t working. The reverse holds true as well, where coaches every so often need to learn to just trust their players to do a job without their constant tinkering. When we understand this on our own, then we genuinely can make an impact (or be impacted) towards getting back on track. The struggles provide us with open eyes and listening ears when they may have been blind and deaf to one another before.
FAILURE FORCES FOCUS.
We live in a results-driven society. The back of a baseball card lists exactly what a player has done. Unless a team has a process-centric culture, there’s usually not a number for quality at bats, productive outs, or making the opposing pitcher work. A focus on the process of what it takes to get better helps bring results quicker than if the focus in of the box score every night. It’s an emphasis on controlling the things we can control. The toughest sell is to get a player to buy in to something when they aren’t getting the positive result feedback. There’s a reason why a coach is a coach, and a player a player. We have been through it before, and know what it takes to get through it again. By trusting in the process of the work- the way we drill, the approach, the way we react to adversity- we are putting the players individually, and the team collectively, in the best position to again be successful.
FAILURE DRIPS SWEAT.
When things are going well, it’s easy coming to the ballpark every day, looking forward to doing the work that has brought success. But when things are going badly, there may always be that little voice inside that says to just give up, and there may be temptation to take the foot off the gas when it comes to continuing to do the work that all of a sudden isn’t bringing the results. A consistent approach of staying the course with the work - through thick and thin - first, gets back to controlling the controllables as mentioned above, and second, it reinforces the value of good old-fashioned work ethic and the true creed that, eventually, good things happen to good people who work hard.
FAILURE BUILDS SELF.
When the player or coach gets through the failures of the game (and if they focus on the aforementioned things, they will), a newfound belief in self will stay with them, and keep them moving forward even when the results say otherwise. So the next time that slump comes about (and in this sport, it will), they will know that they’ve been through the struggle before, and found a way to beat it. Having been there, done that already, while the failure may still be just as painful, it will be much easier to manage the next time around, knowing exactly how to deal with it.
As a coach, it is our job to help our players. Plain and simple. But sometimes we can’t help those who don’t want to be helped, so a step back to allow them to fall will enable us to pick them back up and help them leap forward. In a way, we can help them fail temporarily with the hope of bringing a more permanent success. Failure doesn’t have to be the end of our accomplishment; make the choice to use it as the beginning of a new triumph.
Darren Fenster is a contributor to the USA Baseball Sport Development Blog, and is currently the Minor League Outfield and Baserunning Coordinator for the Boston Red Sox. Previously, Fenster was the Manager of the Portland Sea Dogs, the Double-A affiliate of the Boston Red Sox. A former player in the Kansas City Royals minor league system, Fenster joined the Red Sox organization in 2012 after filling various roles on the Rutgers University Baseball staff, where he was a two-time All-American for the Scarlet Knights. Fenster is also Founder and CEO of Coaching Your Kids, LLC, and can be found on Twitter @CoachYourKids.