Getting over the hump of failure

In the book,  The Up Side of Down: Why Failing Well is the Key to Success, McArdle writes about how cold-call selling companies help get new people over the hump of facing lots of rejection and failure:

Set specific goals for input, not output.

Record your effort.

Use a script.

Surround yourself with other people who are going through the same thing.

These are good steps to keep in mind for learning anything.

As a youth soccer coach, I’ve found that this works well to get kids who are mildly interested in soccer to practice more.

Extremely interested kids don’t need help getting over the failure hump. They don’t care how long it takes to learn some new skill or to become a better player, because they enjoy the process so much that their failures don’t seem like failures to them. These kids are every coach’s dream.

Kids who are mildly interested, however, live with a worldview of instant gratification and leveraging steps like McArdle outlines can help them over the hump.

Let’s focus on one soccer skill as an example: juggling. Learning to juggle a soccer ball takes lots of practice. There are no shortcuts or tricks.

Juggling isn’t a game skill. But, it develops ball reaction, 1st touch, anticipation and foot-eye coordination and most good soccer players are, at least, fair at juggling the ball.

Set specific goals for input, not output

I’ve tried a few ways to get kids juggling. One way is to set a ‘high score’ goal. For example, be able to juggle 30 times by X date.

That works for the players who are extremely interested in soccer. They don’t need that goal because they are already doing the work, but the goal is just a concrete measure that gives them something extra to strive toward.

But, that type of goal doesn’t work for the mildly interested who see every attempt that falls short as a heartbreaking failure and will quickly fall back on activities they are more interested in or provide more instant gratification (like video games).

To get mildly interested kids to do the work, I’ve found it’s better to frame the goals in terms of inputs, rather than outputs.

One way is to set a goal for number of juggles. Get 100 juggles on each foot and alternating every day. Now they aren’t focused on the failure of each attempt, but rather getting to the total number of juggles and they make quick progress.

I’ve also found adding in a time goal helps. How long does it take you get to 100 juggles? That adds a dimension of the goal that focuses on quality because you shorten your time by dropping the ball less and keeping the ball low on your juggles, which takes a fine touch.

Record your effort

It also helps to record your effort. In the book, McArdle says it’s good to be able to see what you’ve done. I think it’s also good to be able to see the progress you’ve made.

With juggling, progress tends to be slow and it’s easy to forget that two weeks ago you could only get 7 and now you are getting 9. Recording your effort helps you remember that.

It also reminds you of the work you put in to get there, which hopefully keeps you motivated to keep going.

Use a script

In the case of juggling, the script is ‘get 100 juggles each foot plus 100 alternating every day’.

I’ve seen lot of kids make scant progress with random kicking of the ball. They tell me they practice, but when I ask them what they do, their practice had no purpose. Following the script gives them purpose.

Surround yourself with other people going through the same thing

This is where the team comes in. They’re all going through the learning process and it helps them to know that their buddies have the same trials and tribulations.

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