by Coach Dave Kenson

A few months ago, the news was all about Presidential Pardons. Okay, relax, this is not going to be a political statement about the merits of those pardons. It is, however, a suggestion for an additional pardon – a Pardon For Failure. First, let’s examine what we mean by a pardon. A pardon is an action of forgiving or being forgiven for an error or offense. I believe that it’s time to forgive and to understand failure. Failure has been accused, but never convicted, of being the opposite of success when, in reality, failure is a very important part of success.

Failure, defined as a genuine attempt which does not produce the desired result, is usually followed by one of two different reactions. The first reaction is to blame something or someone else. For example– The other team cheated. The refs are against us. The league or conference doesn’t want us to be successful. There was an unforeseen change in the market. We get no support from upper management or the administration. These excuses are usually followed by the same kind of lack of success in the future. The second reaction involves self-reflection and self-evaluation. Where did I/we go wrong? This second reaction usually leads to changes in behavior and/or methods and those changes frequently result in a change of outcome. We learn far more from our mistakes than from our successes. Knowledge gained from experience is called wisdom, and wisdom helps to prevent future mistakes. The more mistakes, the more wisdom and the greater the chance of future success. Success is failure/learn/repeat. In other words, lasting success is persistence. If our culture really cared about success, instead of having a TV show called “America’s Got Talent” we would have “America’s Got Persistence”.

Failure is essential to the growth of both individuals and organizations. The problem is we don’t want these failures to occur during the actual game or in life’s crucial situations. This is where the importance of practice or training enters the success equation. Former heavy weight boxing champion, Mike Tyson, once said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the face.” Well, sometimes life is a series of punches in the face, and this is where we begin to learn about the importance of practice and training. The real definition of practice in athletics is called “controlled failure”, and the key question is “what if?” The coach’s job is to make practice so difficult and so intense that mistakes/failures take place. The failures are identified through constructive criticism, corrected through explanation and demonstration and then practiced repeatedly until the desired result is achieved. Effective training in the work world should not only include a company’s methods for completing each task, but also the “what if?” factor. The more mistakes that can be identified and corrected in training, the fewer will occur when it counts and when it causes much more pain.

I was a high school teacher and coach in five different decades. One of the saddest things that I witnessed was kids deciding not to attempt because of the perceived stigma of failure as something that is undesirable and should not be experienced. Often this is the reason for the situations that are much worse than failure; lack of effort and lack of focus. These two conditions do not constitute failure because they are not genuine attempts. Effort requires no talent. It stems from attitude. Lack of focus means that the mind is not totally on the task at hand. The unintended goal of “multi-tasking” is to be “good enough”, but not great; to get two or more things finished. Conversely, a genuine attempt implies full effort and total focus. When this effort does not produce the desired results, this “failure” should be embraced as the stepping stone to success.