Dealing With Success and Failure

Come Ready or Never Start

Dealing with Success and Failure


One of the most valuable lessons that youngsters can learn through participation in organized team sports is how to deal with success and failure.  The Come Ready or Never Start philosophy promotes ways of dealing with both success and failure in athletics that makes these occasions more learning experiences than an evaluation or critique of a child’s skill or value to his or her team.


There are two components to success and failure—the team component and the individual component.  As kids start their sports participation in their younger years, parents need to be looking for small individual and team successes that don’t relate to the outcome of a competition–making sure they offer praise.  These may include:

  • Showing up on time for games and practice
  • Being positive
  • Being properly dressed
  • Playing and practicing hard
  • Doing what the coach tells them to
  • Improving
  • Playing together as a team
  • Hustling as a team


Parents need to sit down with their children and explain what success and failure is at this point in their sport participation.  Failure at this age is:

  • Lack of effort
  • Not behaving during practice
  • Not giving their best
  • Having a negative attitude.

Their team could win but it wouldn’t be considered a successful outcome if it involves teammates arguing, a lack of effort or poor sportsmanship.


Success at this age revolves around trying to get better, both as an individual and as a team.  Sometimes the scoreboard shows it.  Sometimes it does not.  Parents need to sit down with their child and show that each game can be a learning opportunity.  If they won, talk to your child about why they won.  If they lost, talk to your child about why they lost.  (As an aside, when I see a child crying after a lost, it’s a message to me that parents have not taken the time to explain to their children how to keep sports in perspective.  No team or individual failure at this age is important enough to cry about.)


As children get older and enter the world of interscholastic athletics, success and failure can be judged by many of the factors just mentioned along with some additional ones.  Sportsmanship needs to be emphasized.  There is a proper way to win and a proper way to lose.   They should be taught to do both with class and respect for their opponents.  They need to be told they can take positive things away from a loss if they played hard, played together and showed improvement.  (A team can lose 20 games in a row, but if the team is getting better that will change.)  And, of course, a primary emphasis is placed on never, never giving up.  Failure is quitting.  Success is never, never quitting.    Other ‘failures’ at this age include:

·        Kids pointing figures at each other

·        Kids blaming others for a loss

·        Kids criticizing other players

·        Kids criticizing their coaches

Parents need to deal with these ‘failures,’ emphasizing that winning and losing is a team thing and any criticism should be directed at the entire team instead of individual players. 


As young athletes progress to the high school level, the emphasis on winning and losing as defining success and failure increases dramatically.  The competition is more serious and competitive.  They are playing before crowds where their success or failure is magnified.  People are wrapped up in their successes or failures.  It is important to emphasize that the child can learn from both winning and losing (And you can actually learn more from losing than winning.)


If the team wins, talk to your child about the reasons why:

  • Did they have a good week of practice?  What did they do in practice that helped?
  • How did their focus help them?
  • What did they have to overcome?
  • How did teamwork help secure the victory?
  • What do they still need to work on to get better?


If the team loses, talk to your child about:

  • What didn’t work?  What worked?
  • What has to be changed going forward?
  • How was their preparation and practice?
  • What could the child have done better?

 Kids on teams experience success in different ways depending on their roles on the team.  Parents have to realize this and reinforce how their children can experience these successes.

  • Role:  Just glad to be on the team;  benchwarmer; doesn’t play unless game is out of reach

Successes for them:  cheering on the team and offering encouragement to starters; playing hard and helping team prepare during practice (practices are their ‘games’); helping to keep team attitude positive

  • Role:  Primary sub; part-time player

Successes for them:  getting in the game, doing the small things correctly while in the game; making small game contributions; contributing in practice to make the starters better

  • Role:  Starter

Successes for them:  helping team win, individual stats, contributing to team performance

 Parents at this level do need to be proactive in talking with their kids—especially if they  are starters—to reinforce that success or failure in sports is not life or death and should be put in the proper perspective.





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