Have you ever considered how much focus we, as educators, mentors, and parents, put on success? It’s not a bad thing, I’m just asking you to think about it. Keeping children motivated, inspired, and excited about the possibility of winning is something we do without even thinking. After all, the opposite of that would be focusing on why something won’t work, which doesn’t seem positive or hopeful. But teaching kids not only how to succeed, but also how to fail is sometimes more important than success itself.
The best way to ensure a child doesn’t become an adult that lacks proper coping mechanisms, resilience, and fortitude, is to help them prepare for, and respond to, failure. I’m not suggesting we instill apathy toward success, or that we not encourage unshakeable confidence. I am suggesting that the conversations had around achieving an A, scoring the point, or coming in first, are also about if it’s a C, if they miss the basket, and if they come in last place. If only for the sake of teaching how to process failure/loss. Poor sportsmanship is displayed by a person who hasn’t learned how to do that. They have to know that their best effort may not always put them on top, and even if your opinion is that, that’s not okay, they still need to think about what it means. What does 2nd place look like? What do I do with that? What, if anything, does that say about my skills, my abilities, or me? Or perhaps, how do I use this to help me? Most people understand that last question, but even then, the danger in only focusing on that one is they never reconcile the idea that sometimes they will fail, and that’s okay.
The benefit to this attitude is that they’ll be willing to take more risks. Many of the students I see that struggle with learning new concepts do so because they don’t want to risk being wrong. I recognize this in myself at times- there are things I’ve never done because I don’t want to not be good at it. But the reality is, you’ll not be good until you become good- which means there’s a process with steps that include not being good. Skipping over those is just not possible.
What I try to instill in students is that we’re not focusing on grades, and I’m not worried about the end result. We’re focused on the process. If they fail in the process, but succeed in the end, that’s still a win. A well-earned one. The lesson here is that proper processing of failure will undoubtedly lead to greater successes, or at least, a much richer experience.
Happy winning (and losing)!