The Stories That Matter Most To The Utah Lacrosse Community

Mental Training Tips: Failure Is Not Our Enemy!

“Don’t fear failure. – Not failure, but low aim, is the crime. In great attempts it is glorious even to fail.” – Bruce Lee
I have always been a huge fan of Bruce Lee. Yes, most people know him for his Kung Fu movies, but over the last few years, I have become an admirer of Bruce Lee the Philosopher.
Recently, I have been working with an athlete on the topic of fear; more importantly, how the fear of failure can influence and undermine their performance on the field.  I elaborate and explain this quote by Bruce Lee to get them to understand simply; there is nothing wrong with failure.
For most players, fear of failure, is a major factor in keeping them from reaching their full potential. One of the issues players have with failure is they feel they have to be “perfect” during games, which means they feel they can’t make a mistake; not even a little one. So, ultimately, what ends up happening is the fear of failure restricts the player. As they worry about failing and end up becoming tight from the increased stress they place on themselves because they are afraid of failing.
This fear of failure creates a paradox of sorts, as the more fear they have of failing, the more likely failure will happen.  As fear produces tension; tension constricts the blood flow and slows the reflexes, producing shallow breathing, resulting in general or chronic contraction of opposing muscle groups.  In essence, fear makes you play tight.  Fear makes you play safe.  Fear makes you play small. Fear makes you unwilling to take risks.
I recently had a discussion with an athlete, and he was telling me about a moment in the game where his team had forced a turnover and they were transitioning an attack with the opposing team out of position.  The player received the ball with space, and had an opportunity to get a solid shot off. However, the player, who has admitted to not being the “most dynamic” scorer, did not take the shot and passed it to a teammate instead, which allowed the other team enough time to get into defensive position.  When I asked why he did so, his response:
“I didn’t want to risk not scoring, and waste an opportunity.”
I followed up and said, “What happened with the possession?”
He responded, “the defense was able to get back in position and our fast break was ruined as they were able to apply pressure and we turned over the ball.”
This is a perfect example of fear of failure affecting performance, as the player “wasted” an opportunity anyways, simply because he was afraid of failing.
The fear of failure cycle needs to be broken, and athletes have to become “friends” with failure, as failure is not the enemy.  It is essential to understand failure can actually aid in growth and development.  As failure is nothing more than feedback on what skills still need to be developed and improved.  Failure can be a better teacher than winning.
Mental Training Exercises:  3 Tips For Fear of Failure
1. Fail on Purpose! It is important to get comfortable with failure, and look at failure as nothing more than a teammate playing a practical joke on you. Therefore, one should learn to fail on purpose! Next time you are at practice and warming up. Purposely screw up a drill. Go bowling with friends and try to get the lowest score. Make mistakes you’d normally fear making. Have fun with failing and see if the sky falls.  I’m betting it won’t.
2. Be Opportunistic! Learn to embrace the challenges of competition. Instead of fearing the consequences of failure. Love the opportunities that present themselves in competition, such as playing a tight match.
3. Why So Serious? Understand you are playing a game. In fact, you should try less. Let go of the serious mindset. Games are fun! Let go of mistakes quickly; don’t dwell on them. Mistakes are a natural part of the learning process. Learn from your mistakes after the game; don’t analyze them in the middle of the game.
Jared Ocana, M.S., is a Mental Skills Coach and Adjunct Faculty at Westminster College in the Human Performance and Wellness Department. Besides working with student-athletes at the school in 17 intercollegiate sports, Ocana also provides coaching and training to individual athletes along the Wasatch Front.  To connect with Jared, or have questions or comments, you can reach him at: or (801) 448-6818

1 comment
  1. I really appreciate the way you explain how playing with a fear of failure has more than a mental effect on your playing. I never thought about the physical impacts as well

Related Posts