Overcoming Fear of Failure Through Sports

“The impediment to action advances action. What stands in the way becomes the way.”

Marcus Aurelius

Throughout my life, I have seldom been good at anything on first try. If you, like I, are human, your experience may be similar.

Hockey players do not take their first step onto the ice, race down the rink and snipe a wrist shot to the top corner, pumping a fist in the air as the puck ripples the back of the net. Indeed, half the time they fall on that first step—and the second, and the third—whether it’s a tumbling toddler overwhelmed with padding or his knee-knocked mother clinging desperately to the rim of the rink wall.

Of course, we get used to failing the first few tries early on in life. After all, how many of us would be strutting around town today if we’d given up after the first time we tried to walk? (Age-appropriate risk-taking activities help us cope with fear and develop resilience, a key attribute to human success.)

It’s impressive determination from a being at the time limited to drooling, crying, and pooping. But babies don’t settle for that skill set, even if it means scraped knees or a sore bum.

I ask you to look at babies for a little inspiration.

You see, as adults many of us lose this profound ability to fail constantly and still push forward. We get comfortable and cozy inside of our constricting comfort zone. We often become conditioned to fear failure, and this has a dire consequence: people stop trying new things or give up when they’re not immediately proficient.

Friends, that is nonsense. Do not fear failure!

Sports are a wonderful thing, even if most of us suck at them—the first time certainly, and in many cases for years. For example, I was terrible at tennis until I wasn’t. The same can be said for many of my other endeavours, including martial arts and cycling. Repetition is crucial.

Nothing could have made me good at those activities the first time. Thankfully that’s irrelevant. Practice can’t quite make perfect, but a consistent application of specific training nearly guarantees progression—which feels fantastic, and motivates us all the more.

Now, do not think you must train like you’re gunning for the pros. That kind of unrealistic approach turns some away and sets up the rest for disappointment.

This is about conquering the nagging devil on your shoulder who somehow convinced you that being good at stuff you’ve never done before is likely and perhaps even expected. (It’s not.) Obstacles are not to be avoided but rather assessed and then dismantled. The famously stoic Emperor of Rome, Marcus Aurelius, once said that “the impediment to action advances action,” adding that “what stands in the way becomes the way.”

Taking up a sport—whichever you choose—offers an excellent opportunity to overcome the fear of failure. When you identify success, spread the courage: ensure any children or siblings you have in sports do not lose the ambition to become good at that which they are currently not.

And after you do step on to that ice, glide with grace down that rink, and fire with flare that top-shelf shot, understand what got you there is an attitude. Then apply that attitude to your career, your relationships, and everything else.

You’ll become an unstoppable force. Because if failure can’t stop you, what can?

A version of this content was originally printed in The Progress.