Athletic Success in Sports is all about FAILURE!!!

So…I would assume the title caught your eye? I would hope so, as it may seem, at first, that success and failure should not be combined the way they are used in the above heading. It just doesn’t really make sense…does it? Or does it?!!

This brings me to a story written by John Keilman titled “Explosive talent has become expert on failure,” recently in the Chicago Tribune. It was a piece on former high school basketball standout Jereme Richmond, an athlete with a boatload of talent (as a high school athlete), touted as “Mr. Basketball,” and who headed off “to the University of Illinois as the state's most heralded recruit.” But that was only the beginning of his story, as failure seemed to follow him everywhere.

You see, contrary to what many may have predicted, Jereme’s future, after high school, did not peak at the end of some rainbow…nor with an NBA contract. At U of I, he became merely a middle of the road player, getting himself into trouble and suspended from the team twice, after which he choose to move on to the NBA draft (where he went unselected), then, in and out of trouble with the law, and on to a semi-pro team where he was doing well, but, for no real apparent reason, quit, stating that playing was “’too much’ for him,” then back again…in and out of legal trouble. What a roller coaster!!!

Now this doesn’t sound like a very pleasing story…and it isn’t, at least not at this point; there simply isn’t some grandiose happy ending for Richmond, as he has yet to figure out the right choices to make (keep in mind though…he is only 21).

However, there is something else in Keilman’s piece that we really need to take note of. A twist in his writing that focuses on an important part of the inner foundation many an athlete takes away from their sports experience. It is his explanation and discussion on the idea of resiliency in athletics that really catches the careful reader’s, and coach’s, eye.

Defined by resiliency is the:

“ability to recover readily from illness, depression, adversity, or the like”

Once thought to be an inborn characteristic, Keilman now explains how a “growing body of research suggests that it's something that can be developed.” And herein lies the real intent behind Keilman’s article…that resiliency just might be a developed attribute.

Yet…taking it a step further, I might add that not only is it a developed characteristic, and one that is inherently part of the competitive athletic experience, but it is a positive attribute that comes out of one’s failures and difficulties in sports. Or better stated, resiliency is a byproduct of the athletic failures one refuses to accept, and difficulties that one chooses to see as challenges to overcome.

Whether an athlete misses the last shot in a game, the one that would have brought his team a win, fails to earn the starting role they seek, gets demoted to a lower level, gets cut from the team, doesn’t qualify to state, or the like, ALL come with a choice.

To accept that failure or difficulty their circumstance brings…or to NOT accept it, vowing to direct their intentions toward changing that said circumstance one way or another. It is this choice, and determination that must come with that choice, which builds resiliency.

As Nobel Prize–winning author George Bernard Shaw (1856–1950) put it:

“People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are. I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for the circumstances they want, and if they can’t find them, make them.”

And it is those individuals, especially athletes (as failure and difficult circumstances are simply a part of the competitive sports environment), who build the strong type of resiliency that Keilman refers to later in his piece. It is just another significant characteristic coming out of an athlete’s sports experiences.

Bringing this back full circle, the question for someone like Jereme Richmond is whether he will ever fully use the resiliency he developed (something he shows glimpses of through the ups and downs of his athletic career) and, hopefully, find a better path in life for him to follow. One laden with rewards many receive when consistently applying the resiliency they develop (through sports) with positive intentions. You really never know what the distant future might hold for someone like him, anything is possible…even for Jereme Richmond. The door has not completely closed…at least not yet.

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Tags: Athletes, Sports, Success

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