It has been widely accepted within sports that when teams with potential fail to win, the experience is often looked at as a failed season in the absolute sense. While it is understandable why athletes and coaches feel the sense of failure when coming up short, we might instead want to take a deeper look and more realistically appraise seasons that fall short. Think about it — most successful people in the world will tell you that their greatest life lessons came from stress, frustration, and adversity — prompting me to wonder if we should ever dismiss a sports season as a complete failure? If we do this, aren’t we leaving invaluable lessons on the table?
Why seasons are quickly dismissed as “failed seasons”
Perhaps we hear athletes and coaches talk about “failed seasons” because they are expected to, or maybe it’s just a psychological defense mechanism used to deflect after things didn’t work out. For whatever the reason, I believe teams would be much better off accepting seasons that didn’t work out, rather than calling them “failed seasons.” Instead, look for momentum and skills to build from for the future (meaning don’t look at the season as a waste, but rather a great lesson for next year).
When we view experiences in life as failures in the absolute sense, we often disregard the things we learned along the way, as well as start to develop a losing philosophy and culture. Great coaches know this, and they work very hard to frame all team experiences as learning experiences — even the failures and losses. Of course, it goes without saying that coming up short is never fun, and it is especially difficult to handle when the team was loaded with potential that failed to live up to it. Still, throwing it all out the window because of one game is not the best way to remember any season, and certainly not a good move if looking to build a foundation for future success.
The words we use impact thinking & future behaviors
I have always believed there is a mental toughness bandwidth of performance for all of us — when we feel good and are motivated we often hit the top end of the bandwidth, and when we feel frustrated and unmotivated we perform at the bottom of that spectrum. Interestingly, the words we use and the ways in which we capture our thoughts have a direct impact on how we process things cognitively, which in turn directly impact where we fall on the performance bandwidth. In the case of how to categorize a season, athletes who view it as a learning year will play up, while athlete who call it a failure will almost certainly play down and not reach their highest levels.
While it is understandable that you might want to immediately call a losing season a “failed” season, it’s much healthier to try and find the positives you can build from, and set future, realistic goals for the following season. Remember, future team cohesion and attitude can be improved upon by staying positive, allowing your team to over-achieve in the future.
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