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Why Failure Leads to Greatness

  • Author:
    By. Dr. T.J. Allan, Pharm.D
  • Date:
    Aug 7, 2012

It's not a magical drill that instantly turns a poor shooter into a great shooter. It's not advice about proper shot technique. It's not the hours of practice we put in each week.

It's simple. We teach our athletes that failure doesn't define you, but it propels you onto bigger, better things. You will be knocked down, you will be beaten, and you will make mistakes. Guess what successful people call that? Growth. No one succeeds without experiencing those three things.

Don't believe me?

"I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed." — Michael Jordan

"I will not say I failed 1000 times, I will say I discovered there are 1000 ways that can cause failure" — Thomas Edison

Steve Jobs, one of the greatest entrepreneurs of our era, created one of the greatest companies of our era, Apple. He was also fired from the very company he created (and then later rehired and led the company to a level of success even he didn't dream of). During his time away from Apple, he owned two other companies, NEXT and Pixar. He almost single-handedly ran NEXT into the ground. His vision for the company wasn't the vision the market had or wanted. Luckily, he was convinced to make a pivot and pursue a different market.

He also almost single handedly ran Pixar into the ground. If it wasn't for two of his closest employees at the company who convinced him to focus on cartoon animation, Pixar would not be the wildly successful company it is today (and we wouldn't have Toy Story, Monster's Inc, Up, etc).

And when reporters would ask Steve about the "dark years", he'd confidently tell them those failures during that time directly led him to his success at Apple, turning it into one of the greatest entrepreneurial stories of all time. Failure didn't define him. It propelled him.

I have a few athletes I work extremely close with. Three of them are basketball players. One is a phenomenally gifted athlete. She has a level of raw athleticism I've never seen in a girl. She makes jumping over a 34-inch hurdle look effortless. She could honestly excel at any sport she chooses to practice at.

Another one may not have the athleticism of the first girl, but her skills on the court are second to none. She dribbles as well as most boys, and her shot was almost spot on.

However, the third player is a different story. When he first walked through our doors, he was weak, slow, couldn't dribble, and his shot was horrible. From an athletic standpoint, he was the worst of the three by far, and in many ways, still is. If I had to bet at the beginning of last summer who would have excelled the most, number three was a long shot, a real long shot.

And I would have lost. It's not that the other two weren't successful. They both had great seasons. It's just the third athlete had a phenomenal season. Ask anyone who watched him. He looked and played like a completely different player than last year. He grew by leaps and bounds. I wish I could say it was because of a drill we did, the advice we gave him on his technique, or something we did in the weight room, but it wasn't. It was his mindset from the start.

Failure didn't define him. Just because he made mistakes, missed shots, and couldn't dribble two balls at once didn't mean he wasn't a basketball player. All it meant was he wasn't a basketball player YET. It was in him. He just hadn't grown into it. Thus, he never got frustrated failing. It never rocked his confidence. He accepted each and every challenge we threw at him.

There were times when he looked absolutely horrible during a drill. A week later he'd look like a completely different player during the very same drill. He grew and grew and grew until he became one of the best basketball players in the area. And he became the best by failing the most. He is the epitome of the growth mindset.

That's the greatest gift we hope to give players because that gift will lead them to success throughout their entire lives. What most people don't realize is that sports are much more mental than physical.

If your fear of failure exceeds your desire for greatness, you'll be destined for mediocrity.

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