Handling Failure & Adversity in the Pool and in Life

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A young traveler meets a bearded old Guru at a rest stop along the road and asks him, “Oh WISE man, please tell me....which way to SUCCESS?” The wise man says not a word, but instead points off towards the north. The young man excitedly heads off in that same direction with visions of riches in his head. Five minutes pass and then the stillness of the day is shattered by a LOUD “SPLATT!!!” A number of minutes go by and then the young traveler staggers back, bruised, clothes disheveled and dazed. Thinking perhaps that somehow he had misheard the wise man, he asks once again, “Oh WISE man, please tell me....which way to SUCCESS?” Once again the bearded sage says NOT a word, but instead points off in that same northerly direction. This time, a little more cautiously, the young man follows his advice....Now 10 minutes pass and suddenly the calm and silence of the day is shattered by an even more deafening, ground shaking “SPLATT!!!!!”  Ten more minutes pass and the young man can be seen crawling back, his clothes nearly scorched off his back, he's bloodied and in a state of shock. As he approaches the wise man, he becomes more alert and his face is now red with fury as he screams, “Wise man! STOP THIS NONSENSE!!!” I ask you which way to success and both times you don't answer but silently point off yonder! When I do exactly as you say, all that happens to me is that I get SPLATTED! So enough with your silence! TELL ME IN WORDS! WHICH WAY TO SUCCESS?!” The wise man looks the young traveler straight in the eyes and calmly responds, “SUCCESS IS EXACTLY WHERE I POINTED, JUST A LITTLE BEYOND THE SPLATT!!!!

There is one CRITICAL thing that I have found over the years which separates the great swimmers from all the rest, one thing that successful performers both in and out of the pool do better than every one else.

So many people mistakenly believe that becoming a champion happens when you have exceptional talent. Others believe it all rests on tremendous coaching. Still others think that consistent, hard work is the crucial part of this success equation. While all of these help, there is something that is, in my humble opinion, FAR MORE IMPORTANT! The secret to your success is very simple and NOT WHAT YOU THINK! If you really want to become a champion in the pool, if you really want to go as far in swimming as possible, then you have to learn how to FAIL BETTER than everyone else!!! That's right, FAILURE IS THE BIGGEST SECRET to your success both in and out of the pool!!
 
Most athletes think that failure is a bad thing and something that should be avoided at all costs! Nothing could be further from the truth! FAILURE is a GOOD THING! It is your main transportation to success. As long as you have enough of failure, it will take you all the way to where you want to go. However, if you're afraid to fail and, because of this, you avoid opportunities where you could possibly fail, then you will ultimately fall short of your goals!          
Now don't misunderstand me here. There's no question that FAILURE SUCKS! It's no fun to lose, choke or otherwise come up with a subpar performance. The best swimmers in the world hate failing with a passion! However, they have learned over their careers that failing is very necessary to the success process. In fact, you can't really achieve lasting success without failing ENOUGH TIMES!

Whether you're aware of it or not, you intuitively know EXACTLY what I'm talking about here because you learned this experientially when you were a baby. You learned that failure was the ultimate success strategy. You may have forgotten it over the years, but when you first learned to walk, you instinctively used your failures to master this very difficult FIRST skill!   

How does a baby learn to walk? BY FALLING ENOUGH TIMES. The baby pulls himself up to standing on wobbly legs while he steadies himself on a coffee table. Then he lets go, and WHAM...he immediately fell down! This process is repeated over and over again! Sometimes when the baby falls, he gets up smiling....and other times, he gets up screaming in pain and frustration! However, each time the baby falls, his body learns valuable lessons on balance and what works and what doesn't.

When the baby finally is able to stand by himself without holding on, this same falling down process gets repeated over and over again as he begins to take his first steps.  And each time that baby falls, his body is learning what to do and what NOT to do, and all of this valuable learning could NEVER happen unless the baby keeps falling.

IN THIS VERY SAME WAY, YOU AS AN ATHLETE LEARN TO “WALK” BY FALLING ENOUGH. This is how you go from beginner to expert in your sport. This is how you go from an average swimmer to a really good one! In this way, our failures provide us with invaluable feedback on what we did that didn't work and what we need to do differently next time.

The problem far too many swimmers run into when they fall on their face, is they get really upset with themselves. Getting angry with yourself for failing is a terrific waste of time and worse, your emotions distract you from the valuable learnings that are always present within any failure. If you're too busy feeling embarrassed or angry with yourself, then you'll miss the important constructive feedback that ALWAYS comes out of these disappointing swims.

So when you fail, you want to GET CURIOUS, NOT FURIOUS!  You want to be curious about what you did that didn't work and what you need to change for the next time rather than angrily beating yourself up for your failure!
Failure and disappointments are nothing more than valuable feedback which, when used, will help you get where you want to go! Failure is NOT evidence that you suck or that you're inadequate! It is feedback and therefore, delayed success! So when you fall flat on your face during your swimming career, which you can expect will happen any number of times, the most important thing you can do is handle it the RIGHT way. It's part of the process to becoming successful, it NORMAL, and we all have to go through this stuff. There are no shortcuts around failure, loss and disappointment to get to your dreams. You must go through these painful experiences.

Remember, FAILURE IS FEEDBACK AND FEEDBACK IS THE BREAKFAST OF CHAMPIONS!!!!

By Alan Goldberg of Competitive AdvantageDr. Goldberg was the sport psychology consultant to the 1999 NCAA Men’s Basketball National Champion University of Connecticut Huskies, and the 2000 men’s soccer NCAA champions. He specializes in helping athletes overcome fears & blocks, snap out of slumps, and perform to their potential. His book, Sports Slump Busting (LLumina Press), is based on his extensive experience getting teams and individual athletes unstuck and back on track. 
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