Monday, June 4, 2012

Goals vs Tasks: Why we mustn't eliminate the possibility of failure.

The purpose of this post is not goal setting, but more specifically about the importance of RISK in these goals.

Considering failure is very important when setting goals, in that, you need to be able to fail. Absence of the risk of failure, your goal becomes a task.  The difference between the two:
Task: I am going to get a bottle of water from the store.
Goal: I am going to get strong enough to walk to the store to get a bottle of water.

The task could be something off of a "To Do List". The goal is something that could go wrong; I have to build the strength in order to get there. If I don't build the strength, I can't walk there. The difference should be pretty clear here; a task is something that takes very little effort and a goal is something quite a bit more difficult to achieve. You could be a master of goal achievement if you only set goals you could achieve. Goal #1, wake up Goal #2 have lunch, etc or perhaps less ridiculous, setting a swim standard that you knew you could definitely achieve, setting out to beat someone that you know you should beat... in other words, setting the bar very low.

Failure teaches people a lot, especially kids. Teaching your children how to cope with goal failures can make them very successful in life. Whether its learning how to deal with a missed time standard, not being selected for a team or missing a final or a medal at an important meet; this experience can help your children later in life (applying for jobs and interview skills always come to mind here). Former Canadian Olympian, Casey Barrett, spelled this out very well in a column about Stephan Herniak; "And when those moments don’t pan out as planned, well, those are often the men and women who stay hungry for life."

As a parent of young children, I understand the thought process behind not wanting your children to fail. I watch my son try to climb everything with the goal of conquering all of the furniture in my house. There is clearly a risk to this, as he has fallen more than once. The interesting thing to me is that, over time, he has been more reluctant to climb things without foot holds or that he cannot see the top of. He has learned from the mistakes he has made and learned to make more calculated climbing risks (as well as a two year old can). I don't want him to hurt himself but it is important to me that he understand his abilities and learn from mistakes. Failure has made him a much smarter child (although he is still a pain in the butt pleasant individual). 

Staying focused on a goal is also important. I cannot count the number of times I have watched athletes (both as a coach and as a team mate) make excuses or bargain about an upcoming goal test. For example; "Is there a way that I can qualify for this team earlier so I have an extra chance" or "I hope that (name of competitor here) gets sick or can't compete". Its natural to want to eliminate the stress of the final goal and natural to want it to be easier. Unfortunately, its not reality. In these cases, these athletes have stopped focusing on what THEY have to do in order to be successful and are focused on either the outcome or uncontrollable variables. Sports is a great character builder because it forces a lot of focus; focus on what YOU have to do. Stay focused on your goals, not the risk associated with them.

We're coming into championship season for Canadian Swimming and this is the time for pass or fail in goals. In the next 2 months (even during the Olympics), many will see their goals realized but many more will fall short of their mark. The opportunity to test yourself and work as hard as you can and the possibility to see your goal realized is what sports is all about. The possibility of failure comes with the territory. Do not be afraid to fail. Do not be afraid to let your children fail. It doesn't mean that they're weak individuals, it means that they are learning to be stronger. Failure doesn't mean that its time to pack up and move onto something else.

As my children go through adolescence and their teen years, I imagine it will get tougher and tougher on me every time they get their hearts broken or are overcome by emotion because of a missed opportunity or failure. This is where the coach in me will step in. I will remind them of the video below and tell them to dust themselves off. Then I will go in the other room and try not to feel sorry for them by reminding myself that they're stronger because of it.