The Man Who Is Not Afraid of Failure Seldom Has to Face It

Wooden Wednesday, Volume 3, Issue 137
July 19, 2017
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The Man Who Is Not Afraid of Failure Seldom Has to Face it

This favorite quote of Coach Woodenís was a reflection of the way he lived, coached and the way his teams played: fearless.

Success is the opposite of failure. Coach Woodenís lack of fear of failure started with how he defined success: Success is peace of mind attained only through self-satisfaction in knowing you made the effort to do the best of which you are capable.

For Coach, you were only a failure if you did not make the effort to do the best of which youíre capable. As Coach liked to say, the only real failure is to not act when action is needed.

Coach did not believe success or failure was based on the final score. He summed it up this way:

If you truly do your best, and only you will really know, then you are successful, and the actual score is immaterial, whether it was favorable or unfavorable. However, when you fail to do your best, you have failed even though the score mightíve been to your liking. I want to be able to feel, and want my players sincerely to feel, that doing the best that youíre capable of doing is victory in itself, and less than that is defeat.

To keep his players fearless, Coach never mentioned winning. He summed up his logic this way:

I donít think you could find any player to tell you that I mentioned winning. I wanted winning to be the by-product of the preparation and failure to prepare is preparing to fail. I always wanted them to have that satisfaction within themselves, that peace of mind within themselves, that they made the effort to execute near their own particular level of competency, not trying to be better than someone else, but be the best that they could be.

With three different groups of players over an eight year period, Coach Woodenís teams won 38 consecutive single elimination NCAA tournament games.

They were focused on their effort, not fearful of the final score.

It has been said, fear of the unknown is the greatest fear of all. At the beginning of a contest the final score is unknown. By redirecting his playerís focus to their effort (a self controllable and known quantity), not the final score, he minimized the fear of failure factor.

The pre-game talk Coach gave before a National Championship Game was the same as any other game:

Iíve done my job, now itís time for you to do yours. I donít want to know by the expression on your face after the game which team scored more points. Now letís go.

And GO they did. Fearless!