“The greater danger for most of us lies not in setting our aim too high and falling short; but in setting our aim too low, and achieving our mark.”
I love this quote because it works on a personal level as well as an expectation for students and athletes. It is hard to explain to kids that it’s ok to fail, because generally in doing so we become better. One big thing I always tried to convey to my wrestlers is that losses are only bad if we don’t learn anything from them. The same is true for falling short on goals, but if our goals are set high and we fall just short you can look back and see that you have made a lot of progress.
One thing I have been reading a lot about online revolves around teaching students that it’s ok to fail, as long as they can work to recover. I read this quote from Todd Whitaker – “My teacher thought I was smarter than I actually was. So I was.” It got me thinking about students and athletes who achieve above their level. You never see the people around them telling them they won’t achieve something. If telling a kid they can succeed at a higher level in sports motivates them to do better, why wouldn’t that also be true in the classroom?
We all know this is easier said than done, we live in a time where it seems like students subscribe to the Homer Simpson way of thinking, “Kids, you tried your best and you failed miserably. The lesson is, never try.” and “If something’s hard to do, then it’s not worth doing.” Many kids subscribe to this way of thinking because they are legitimately afraid that they will work hard and fail and failing at something is one of the worst things that can happen. So we have to work on changing the culture that surrounds failing. Setting low expectations allows students to “succeed” but achieve little. I once heard legendary wrestling coach Dan Gable talk to reporters about how he would approach coaching against Cael Sanderson in college. Some background on Cael, he is the only four time undefeated NCAA wrestling champion in history. Coach Gable’s thought process was fairly simple but hugely profound; he talked about finding someone who would accept the challenge of being the one who would knock off Sanderson. Knowing this would be a lofty goal they would have to push themselves tremendously for an entire year and in the end if they met Sanderson in the finals of the NCAA and lost they would still have accomplished being an NCAA runner up. They would have failed in their ultimate goal but who could argue with the results, could we really call an NCAA finalist a failure?
The take away for me is: Set your goals high, as high as rationally possible, and in the end look back on how far you have come and all that you have succeeded in. Can you really call yourself a failure?