Some recent conversations have reminded me about the importance of failure in player development.
The first example came from Rose Lavelle, a current rising star with the U.S. National Team and a rookie with the Boston Breakers. She told a story about how as a high school freshman her fear of failure nearly derailed a promising career.
“I remember my first year of regional camp with ODP,” said Lavelle. “I think a lot of people expected me to make it. I think I thought I would make it,” she said. “But I remember telling my mom, ‘I hate this. I don’t want to go. I want to quit ODP.’ But honestly, I loved ODP. In the back of my mind, I think I was afraid I would get cut, and I didn’t want to let anyone down. I had never experienced getting cut from a team. I never had an experience when I wasn’t one of the best, and the thought of going to this camp and failing and not making the regional team really freaked me out.”
Lavelle’s mother told her that she had already made the commitment and she had to honor it. If she didn’t want to go the next year, her mother said, she didn’t have to. But this year, she was going.
“I didn’t have a good camp, and I didn’t make it,” Lavelle said. Lavelle’s mom, thinking that was the end of ODP, told her she didn’t have to go the next year.
“I’m going,” Lavelle replied.
“I wanted to redeem myself,” she explains. “I learned so much that year. I learned you have to be comfortable being uncomfortable. And you have to be willing to respond to adversity. It’s something that I have carried with me as I have gotten older.
“The next year, I was excited. I was nervous, but having experienced my first failure I was more prepared. I knew what it felt like the year before and I knew I didn’t want to feel that way ever again. That motivated me. It’s important to fail and learn from your failure. It’s important to realize it’s not the end of the world. It was a good lesson.”
Another example about failure comes from three former Women’s National Team soccer players, three of the greatest of all time. Mia Hamm, Tisha Venturini and Kristine Lilly travel around each summer and work with young soccer players, the oldest being 13. Among what they tell the kids is ‘Don’t be afraid to fail.”
“The wonderful thing about the growth of the game is that the kids get exposed to more competitive environments and higher levels of coaching when they are younger,” said Hamm. “The downside of that is that they are constantly being evaluated. What I shared with them is that we are not judging them out here. We might point out something that will help them, but we are not evaluating.”
Being constantly evaluated is something Hamm, Lilly and Venturini-Hoch think has a negative impact on development of young players. It has led to parents being afraid to put their children in situations where they might not succeed. But they are doing their part to recognize that fear of failure and push kids to grow from it.
“We had so much fun when we played,” said Venturini-Hoch, who had an astonishing record of 248-2-4 record between Grace Ann Davis High in Modesto, Calif., (151-1-3) and the University of North Carolina (97-1-1). “A lot of times, that gets lost when kids are playing. Sometimes, there is so much pressure on them, they play it safe. We want to show them that it’s okay to try something and mess up. We do it all the time.”