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what to do with failure

I have to confess to feeling a little sorry for the England football team. In the final analysis, they have already fallen well short of the standard required by a team to progress deep into a major tournament like the World Cup. The players, manager, and wider English game is now, and will continue to be, subject to a long and drawn out period of scrutiny, brow beating, over analysis, and general level of negativity. I guess, with the amount of money they all earn, this comes with the turf. But it can’t be much fun.

And all this from a squad that was, seemingly, so well prepared, and was also able to operate under a much-reduced level of expectation than that they have been used to in previous tournaments. It still all came to nought. At least they qualified in the first place…

Failure, unfortunately, is a constant in sport. Frustration and disappointment are easily the two most common emotions that athletes will talk about with me. Luckily, for most, the counterweight of the moments of sheer elation and enjoyment, and the thrill of competing and winning will override those more negative emotions, and keep people coming back for more.

It’s probably true in business to an extent as well. I have read the biographies of entrepreneurs and business leaders, and also met hugely successful business people, and many will talk about their experiences of failure, and how integral those have been in their ultimate successes.

So whilst failure is certainly commonplace, it also seems it can actually be quite a helpful thing. How would a team, or an individual, best go about dealing with it?

The easy answer is to use it for something. Think about it, reflect on it, learn from it. Decide that you don’t want to experience it again, and use that as extra motivation to spurn you on and progress. Plan what you are going to do differently next time.

The wrong thing to do, is nothing. I have met plenty people, who, after the experience of something going wrong or not working out, simply want to shut up shop and never think about it again. Understandable on one level, but typically, a bad idea.

So in this context, failure can actually be viewed as a really useful, and even positive experience. On a personal level, I certainly have benefitted from screwing things up on a number of occasions. It may not feel the best at the time, but further down the line it can certainly stand you in good stead.

My advice to the England team would be to not abandon everything and go back to the drawing board. Now is not the time for wholesale changes. They need to build and use their experiences in Brazil to help them going forward, rather than ripping up the script and starting over. In reality, this will be hard, such are the pressures of modern sport, and football in particular. Good luck to them.

Yours in psychology,


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