Fear of failure, fear of losing drives bad decisions

Guess it’s about time for my annual rant on this topic. It’s a shame, because this line of thinking really limits kids in so many aspects of their lives — especially their ability to become fully functional adults.

If you watch what goes on in classrooms, on ballfields, and just about anywhere else in America these days you’ll see a very familiar phenomenon. We here in America hate to lose, and hate to either fail ourselves or see our kids fail. Now, that in and of itself isn’t a bad thing. We should want to win, and we should want to succeed. The problem is we want it so much that we’re willing to accept winning and success at any cost — especially the cost of longer-term success.

Look what’s happened in the schools. At one time schools held their students accountable to tough standards. Teachers would teach, students would learn. If the students didn’t hold up their end of the bargain they’d fail the class. They might even get left behind a grade if they failed enough.

Today, we don’t fail students anymore. We believe it’s bad for their self-esteem. Instead, we lower the requirements to make it easier for them to pass the class. If that doesn’t work, we lower the standards some more. We teach kids to learn how to pass the test instead of how to think. It’s no wonder America is falling behind in academic pursuits, especially math and science.

The same thing happens with fastpitch softball. If a pitcher struggles to get the ball over, well-meaning but ill-informed coaches will tell them to “slow it down and get it over.” Never mind that you’re destroying the mechanics that pitcher has worked so hard to acquire, and that it will probably throw her off for the next few games besides. It’s more important to win that game today, so just do whatever it takes to make it a strike.

The same goes with hitters. How many coaches have told their hitters not to worry about hitting the ball hard, just make contact? Well, if you substitute the word “outs” for contact you’ll be saying pretty much the same thing. It’s not that taking a good, aggressive swing is harder than taking a “contact” swing. It’s that the player hasn’t worked enough on her aggressive swing to make it easy. It is definitely easier to swing lightly and just try to put the bat on the ball. You won’t strike out as often, maybe. But you also won’t be developing the foundation you’re going to need later on in the game. At that point, you’ll have to completely relearn your swing — if you can. If not, you’ll probably be done playing before you should be. All because someone didn’t want you to strike out too often when you were eight.

It isn’t easy to watch our kids fail.  But sometimes it’s necessary. Pain is a good teacher. If you stick your hand in a fire and feel no pain, you won’t know to pull it back out before all the skin burns off. If you lower the bar on pitching, hitting, throwing, etc. then players have no real incentive to work harder and learn to do things the right way.

Yes, it’s difficult to watch your pitcher walking batter after batter. If it happens, take her out and let someone else “just get it over.” If the pitcher is serious, she’ll work at not having that experience again. If the hitter has a good swing but isn’t hitting the ball with it, check if she needs glasses. If not, be patient. When she does start hitting it, and she will, she’ll do more for you than all your contact/out hitters.

Trust me. Nobody hates losing more than I do. But it’s part of the learning process. Give kids a safe environment to fail while trying to be their very best and they won’t disappoint you. Kids are resilient, overall. Dumb it all down for them, though, and ultimately you’ll wind up disappointing them.

About Ken Krause

Ken Krause has been coaching girls fastpitch softball for nearly 20 years. Some may know him as a contributing columnist to Softball Magazine, where he writes Krause's Korner -- a regular column sponsored by Louisville Slugger. Ken is also the Administrator of the Discuss Fastpitch Forum, the most popular fastpitch discussion forum on the Internet. He is currently a Three Star Master Coach with the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA), and is certified by both the Amateur Softball Association (ASA) and American Sports Education Program (ASEP). Ken is a private instructor specializing in pitchers, hitters, and catchers. He teaches at North Shore Baseball Academy in Libertyville, IL and Pro-Player Consultants in McHenry, IL.

Posted on January 28, 2008, in Coaching, General Thoughts. Bookmark the permalink. 2 Comments.

  1. What a great post. In my DD’s short time playing softball, I cannot count the number of times I have heard (and said) something along these lines.It is so easy to get caught up in today’s game and forget about that game that’s coming two years down the road. I think that’s going to be particularly important in the age group I coach (10U).


  2. Thanks, John. We’ve all said it at some time or another. It’s hard not to get caught up in the game at hand. But if you take a long-term view it gets a little easier to stay with the plan.It’s kind of the other side of the coin of early success, too. Sometimes players and coaches get so enamored of today’s success that they don’t work on making themselves better. They’re already winning — aren’t they already better? The truth is, no. Natural ability will only take you so far. Once the weeding out process starts the caliber of play goes up and those old skills that worked before don’t work anymore. That’s why it’s important to forego the short term in favor of the long term. The payoff comes later, when it means a lot more.


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