As parents, we want our children to be successful on the court—and in life. But often, when kids experience frustration or setbacks when playing sports, they become discouraged and want to give up. It is important to help our children embrace micro-failures to help them reach their full potential.
What are Micro-Failures?
Micro-failures are small setbacks that occur during a game or practice session. If your child misses a shot or makes an error during a game, this is an example of a micro-failure. It is important for your child to understand that these moments are part of the learning process. They are opportunities for growth – and are not signs that one should quit or be discouraged.
Micro-failures should be expected in life. They are essential building blocks for success.
My First Experience with Micro-Failure in Sport
When I started playing basketball at age 14, my rep coach kept me from practicing with the team for the first month. I was new to the game, and he insisted I practice dribbling and form shots on side baskets. With teammates watching from the main court, I was embarrassed when the ball bounced off my toe or never touched the rim. But I was motivated to learn, and I was not allowed to practice until I could do basic skills consistently. After hundreds of repetitions, my face stopped blushing after a miss, and slowly but surely, I improved. After a summer of practice, I recognized that I got better because I ‘put in the time,’ and there was the realization that effort can produce successful results. As a young student who struggled in school, this was empowering as sports offered a sense of control over the success I could achieve. I am sure when my parents watched my ‘micro-failures’ in games, it was not easy for them. But if my parents or coaches had protected me from micro-failure that summer, I would not be the person I am today.
The Benefits of Micro Failures
When faced with micro-failure, encourage your child to take ownership. Teach them to reflect on what went wrong, get helpful feedback from coaches, and focus on what they can do to improve. These are healthy coping skills your child can use the next time when faced with adversity. Recognizing micro-failures as learning moments – regardless of frustration – will help your child focus on long-term goals and less on short-term disappointment.
How I Encourage Micro-Failures with my Kids
I am a basketball mom of three boys, ages 12, 17, and 19, who play, respectively, on a U13 rep team, a high school prep team in Boston, and at the University of Toronto. Here are three things I do to help my kids embrace micro-failure:
- I choose not to be in the gym when they practice. Watching kids persevere can be rewarding and difficult as a parent. I choose to give them space to learn – without more eyes watching.
- During games, I watch but never yell or coach from the sidelines. My only comment on the car ride home is: “I loved watching you play.”
- I tell my kids stories of my micro-failures in sports and in business. I do this to encourage them to try new and challenging things. I want my kids to know that becoming ‘better’ takes a willingness to stretch themselves and fail.
Ultimately, sport is not about winning or losing—it is about developing grit and resilience through hard work and dedication. Your child may not have mastered that lay-up yet, but progress comes with practice. Help your child to understand the positive in micro-failing. Teach them that resilience comes from growth over time through a challenge – and success on and off the court in life depends on it.