Teach your kids to embrace failure.

We all grew up learning that failure is something to be feared. And now, your little hockey superstar is facing this fear themselves and it feels like all hope is lost. Failure is just one part of the hockey journey, keep reading to learn how to embrace it as an opportunity for growth.

It’s Wednesday morning. The alarm sounds at 6:00 am. The sun is shining. The birds are singing.

The kids are up. Obviously. Sounds like mini-sticks in the living room again. But pay them no mind. Their lunches are packed, and the hockey bag is loaded in the car.

It’s a new day of hockey camp! You approach your little superstar and ask if he’s ready:

“Mom, I don’t want to go to camp today. I’m not having fun anymore,” he says.

This isn’t the normal child apathy you sometimes get when they’re just hangry. This was different. It was real. You signed him up for summer hockey camp for obvious reasons.

I mean, 6:00 am mini-sticks, for one.

But this was an opportunity for him to grow his skills—life skills; make real social connections, and of course, learn something new he can take with him into the fall hockey season.

After a few attempts of unsuccessful prying, he finally broke:

“I’m the worse kid of the group, Mom. All the other kids are faster. They’re stronger,” and fighting back tears he exclaimed, “and better than me!”

I gave myself a few seconds before I responded. I walked him to the steps of our front porch and sat him down. First, I asked him about his instructors.

“They’re nice. But it doesn’t matter. I suck.”

So there it is. He feels left behind; not good enough. He thinks he’s a failure.

We feel helpless, as parents when your child feels that all hope is lost. You look to find excuses, albeit, reasons for blame and want to hold everyone accountable for your child’s pain. I felt it. I wanted to make that phone call or type that email.

It’s no different than a standardized test or getting eliminated in Fortnite. We’ve been taught since day one that failure is bad. The feeling is meant to impact you at your very core.

However, like all athletes, recreational or professional, we all face that inevitable opponent: failure. It’s a strong word but hear me out:

We grew up learning that failing is a bad thing, so we have come to fear it. However, take comfort in knowing that ALL athletes fail, even the GOATs. And failure is an important milestone for kids to face head-on. That’s why sports matter: it’s a dress rehearsal for life where, aside from the physical benefits, our kids will be forced to learn how to solve their own problems and make their own decisions.

Failure is not a bad word. Here’s why:

• It should be welcomed as part of the journey for our young athletes to learn from.
• Not being perfect the first time around, opens the door for learning opportunities for our children to learn more about themselves and to acquire the necessary skills to grow from it.
• Embracing failure is important and should be part of every curriculum in every dynamic: from in the class, in the gym, on the field, or on the ice. Talk about failure as an outcome

That day taught me something: that my child deserves a judgment-free environment to learn from their triumphs and failures: communities that empower every kid to learn from their mistakes and guide them in the right direction.

Embrace your child’s failure like it is a blessing. It’s all part of their own personal athletic journey.


Embrace Failure

I talk about this constantly with other parents. Now, our goal is to train our kids to look at failure differently:

“All of my classmates laughed at me today for scoring in my own net,” one child said.

“Well, did you know in 1986, Steve Smith of the Edmonton Oilers accidentally scored in his own net in Game 7 of the semifinals, which ended up being the game-winning goal for the Flames?” replied his Dad.

“Did everyone blame Steve for the loss?”

Want to know how Dad replied?

But even on their best days, professional athletes, our heroes; the ones that inspire us, make mistakes. Sometimes big ones.


Talk About It

Most young athletes don’t realize that failure is not only okay but expected. Hockey is such a fast-paced sport on a slippery surface where even the tiniest of mistakes, like hitting the goal post, can affect the outcome of a game. Kids tend to look at their mistakes and blame themselves for it, which can leave a negative, and at times traumatic, memory in their minds. It is important to talk with your kids to develop positive responses to their moments of failure, while also acknowledging the issue.

Consider the model of the compliment sandwich (Compliment – Feedback – Compliment), to frame the positives of what they did well on, then address the situation with constructive feedback, and lastly, mention ways they can grow from the mistake.

Having them focus on the positives, such as what their strengths are, is a much healthier way to learn from their mistakes. Encouraging them to show more self-love can go a long way to have them face their failures head-on towards success in sports.

Oh right, Dad’s reply:

“No, Wayne Gretzky and the entire team backed him up and supported him. Steve took the opportunity to embrace the failure and learned from it to have a lengthy career in the NHL. “

“Did Steve end up winning a Stanley Cup?” asked his son.

“Wayne Gretzky and the Oilers dedicated the next season to win the 1987 Stanley Cup, for Steve.”

Failure is a Part of the Journey

“My team keeps losing, I don’t want to play anymore.”

“I can’t shoot top shelf on the net.”

“I keep missing my one-timers!”

For someone to win or succeed in a sport, someone must fail or have a setback. It’s all part of the athletic journey. We all fail more often than we win. Our kids may need to come to terms that they have limitations that will keep them from going the distance. However, it should not stop them from playing.

Ask your child what obstacles or setbacks they may be facing that would cause them to give up.

Obstacles present an opportunity for your child to practice the art of letting go of the painful emotion and moving forward with the task.

If your child misses an easy tap-in goal or misses an easy save, it will be vital to see whether they can move on and learn from it. People who succeed where others have failed are exceptionally absorbent when it comes to the pain of setbacks.

Always reinforce positivity with your kids and encourage to continue pursuing personal achievements and bests! Whether they finally score their first goal or make their first breakaway save, those moments should always be celebrated. No great athlete allows themselves to be deflected from their path by failure. They accept it, learn from it, and move on.


Mistakes are Opportunities

“Why is my coach making us do the same passing drill again?”

“Do we have to practice tip-ins?”

“Why do we have to practice breakouts again?”

“Well, my friend Jerry keeps missing the open net…”

The right hockey community expects mistakes to be made during practice. Everyone develops their talents and skills at their own pace. As an athlete, you learn a new sports-related skill and then practice this skill repeatedly until you gain confidence in using it in a competition. While practicing, you will make a mistake and then try it again. Not to mention, your child could also learn from watching their own teammates make mistakes.

Failure allows for reassessment and feedback to see what can be done next time to be successful.

The ideal Camp Instructors are always there to provide nurturing feedback and continuous encouragement to assure the kids that they can do it. It is important for the kids to see mistakes as opportunities and improve on it, but also not to fear them. A child being able to face fear head-on is one of the greatest life lessons they will learn not only in hockey but in life as well.

Embrace Intelligent Failures, Avoid Preventable Failures

“Did you improve your stickhandling today at camp?”

“It was ok, I can hold onto the puck a bit longer. I keep getting the puck stolen during scrimmage.”

“Well, I am glad to hear that compared to what you said yesterday. For tomorrow, try to hold on to your stick with a firmer grip and see if that helps!”

One of the great things about youth sports is to see the little milestones adding up to the big milestones for your child.  Mistakes can be frustrating to make, but it also can be frustrating when we see someone make the same futile mistake, they keep on making, repeatedly.

That’s the difference between intelligent and preventable failures.

Intelligent failures involve trying something way out of your own comfort zone. Those are the failures that kids should see and embrace wholeheartedly. Encourage your kids to look back at their failures with honesty. While it is good to praise them for their successes, it is important for them to acknowledge their areas of improvement. It will help them understand better of their mistakes so they can take the feedback and continue practicing getting better at it. A child adopting the work in progress mindset will help them appreciate their lifelong journey of growth and development they are on as young athletes.

So, What Happened With My Kid?

“Can I quit hockey camp and stay home?” he said.

“Did you try your best at camp so far?” I replied.

“Yes, I did. Some of the drills are just too hard and I am not learning as fast as the others.”

I had to remember that failure is inevitable in any sport. He wants to go out on the ice and be the next Connor McDavid instantaneously. Instead of being perfect, he needs to explore his own strengths and weaknesses to become the best athlete he can be. Camps like this one are designed to help him be creative. More often than not, creativity involves lots of failures and setbacks.

I took a deep breath and remembered that their one day or moment of failure is not a setback, it is all just part of their own journey to becoming their best.

“Well buddy, forget all that noise. It doesn’t matter. I want you to go on the ice to have fun and learn. It’s not about winning. Focus on learning and being active. Be creative, be silly, and enjoy the time with your friends. Summer camp is about fun. And I’m sure some of your teammates might be struggling as well. A true captain like Connor McDavid always helps Leon Draisaitl when he’s struggling. Help each other out and get better together. I know a lot of the stuff you’re doing is new and challenging, but you will learn so much from the experience.”

“Thanks, Mom.”

“Sounds good, let’s get to a new day of hockey camp.”


Want to read more about embracing failure, and the four key mindset changes your young athlete needs to make now? Check out Coach Gad’s guide to learn more.

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