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The Gift of Failure

By March 3, 2019No Comments

“No Pass, No Play” ( has been around since 1984 and continues to motivate (or create anxiety for) student athletes to place ample effort on their school work to maintain eligibility for play during their specified season(s). What happens, then, when athletes are in the ‘off season’ or worse, don’t pass a class during their specified season? Are these students able to remain intrinsically motivated to maintain the level of commitment to academics that they demonstrate during their sporting season and/or raise their grade to passing in a pressure situation? How are you equipping your child with tools to manage failure and more importantly, to bounce back from that experience?

For the purpose of this article, the word athlete will encompass any student who is affected by the UIL eligibility rules of no pass, no play albeit a debate student, theater student, cheerleader, etc.

Before understanding how failure can present itself as a gift, here’s a quick review of intrinsic versus extrinsic motivation. First, remember that intrinsic motivation is a drive from within, a drive for personal satisfaction or achievement, whereas extrinsic motivation is some outside demand, obligation, or reward that requires the achievement of a particular goal. It’s developmentally typical for our youth to be driven by extrinsic rewards: money, popularity, grades, etc. As we mature, and our executive functioning (the part of the brain that understands cause-effect, right from wrong, problem solving) develops and with that usually the concept and pay-off of intrinsic motivation: serving others, following our passions, and daily workouts (ok, that’s a bit of extrinsic motivation, too!)

Let’s focus on your average 12-17 year old. The current sport season is in full swing, and the first grading cycle is coming to a close. The grades come out and your student has fallen below a passing grade in an academic class. The student is then considered ineligible to participate in any official competitions for the next 3 weeks. You can choose to angrily berate your child about their lack of effort, how they’ve ruined their sporting career, or how they have embarrassed you.

Or you can reframe the experience as a gift. You now have an amazing, organic opportunity to have your student fail, safely, and learn the basis for intrinsic motivation: resiliency.

Failure is an amazing gift that allows resiliency and intrinsic motivation to occur if nurtured appropriately. Most commonly, the term resilience has come to mean an individual’s ability to overcome adversity and continue his or her normal development. So how does a parent support that experience?

First and foremost, we must not rescue. We must not run to ‘make it right’. We must witness the struggle. And yes, typically, it’s hardest on us, the parent. We yearn to make our children’s lives amazing, rich with experience, joyful and….without conflict or failure. Yet we’re creating a generation of young people who don’t know how to fail, how to bounce back, and how to learn from those mistakes.  We must MODEL these resilience skills ourselves by intentionally remembering our kids are watching us, our successes and our failures. They’re watching how we manage conflict, and how we manage frustration. How do you foster resilience as a parent or a role model?

  • Find a Sense of Purpose in Your Life
  • Build Positive Beliefs in Your Abilities
  • Develop a Strong Social Network
  • Embrace Change
  • Be Optimistic
  • Nurture Yourself
  • Develop Your Problem-Solving Skills (and conflict resolution skills)
  • Establish Goals

*From Very Well Mind (

Begin to not only model these resiliency skills, but have conversations about them with your kiddos. Write them down and take an assessment of where his/her strengths and weaknesses are within those skills. Facilitate these skills in your young people’s lives.

Then, know you’re not in this alone. Our community is strong with support, both professionally and also personally (the friendships are deep and caring.) Know how to promote intrinsic motivation within your child through focusing on skills such as:

    • Challenge – allows a person to work toward a meaningful goal.
    • Control – allows one to control what happens to them.
    • Curiosity – stimulates the desire to learn about something.
    • Fantasy – turns learning into a game by using mental images rather than things actually present.
    • Cooperation and recognition – bring satisfaction and appreciation from others to the motivator.
    • Competition – lets a person feel satisfaction by comparing their performance to others.

*From MentalToughness Partners (

Let’s circle back to the athlete above, who now is ineligible to play due to a non-passing grade. He/she will survive this ‘failure’. What better time to fail than with you as their safety net. How you choose to guide their learning within this failure opportunity is key to how strongly he/she will bounce back. Grades are simply NOT the most important part of our children’s educational experience nor is how many minutes of playing time he/she receives within their given sport.

Failure equals a learning opportunity. Failure can become a lesson. Failure can be a gift. As parents, educators, coaches, and community members, we must create the safety net that communicates that ‘this too shall pass’, that they ARE capable of bouncing back, and that they need to love themselves as much as we do!

Kathleen Hassenfratz, LPC


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