The Fear of Failure is Often Worse than Failure Itself

Whether parents put pressure on their kids or not, kids will put pressure on themselves. This pressure can lead to fears that if not handled properly will lead to poor performances and potentially a greater fear of failure. Helping young players understand and deal with fear and anxiety assists kids not only in sports but also in all areas of life.

Failure and fear do not have to go together. Failure is result of trying something and not succeeding. Fear comes from dreading the consequences of failure. Helping kids separate these concepts assists kids in keeping fear in perspective. Some ways that parents can help kids deal with fear include:

  • Guarantee Love – Make sure that kids know that parental pride comes from the attempt and not from the outcome. If kids know they will have parental support regardless of the outcome, they are more likely to take chances and risk failure.
  • Explain that Failure is a Result of Trying – When kids do not try, they do not fail. If parents are going to encourage their children to try new things, they are also encouraging them to fail. Not all new things will result in first time success.
  • Remind that Failure and Success are not Permanent – Failing or being successful today do not guarantee like outcomes in the future. In fact, many future successes start with today’s failures.

Kids are often fearful because they lack experience and dread the unknown of failure. When parents help their kids think through these unknowns, they are equipping them with the understanding to overcome this lack of experience.

6 Responses to The Fear of Failure is Often Worse than Failure Itself

  1. jo Angiulo says:


    We are really struggling with our 10 yr old and his self-confidence. He is so fearful of failure that he holds himself back all the time. School and life he does as is directed – knowing he can and it’s no big deal. In baseball, he is quite the athlete, he is a strong performer. The trouble is, once he is put in the “game”, he NEVER performs as he does at practices with his coaches for his fear of failure. He is so anxious about so many things. We follow all of the above suggestions, but nothing seems to work. We have always encouraged doing your best and having fun, and letting him know that is all we want. We couldn’t care less if he fails after trying, he puts it all on himself. Any suggestions would be helpful.
    thanks, jo

  2. Jeff says:

    A couple of thoughts on this: 1) Sometimes the fear of failure is also a fear of ridicule from teammates. If your son does not have close friends on the team, host a team party and encourage your son to get to know his teammates better. 2) Talk the situation over with your son’s coach and encourage the coach to talk with your son about this issue.

    If these don’t work, you may want to consider a session with a therapist. More therapists these days have expertise in youth sports and the associated issues. If your son is unreasonably afraid of failure, a therapist can help. Many of pros use therapists to get past similar issues. What your son is experiencing is not uncommon even among those you would think would be past the issue – like pro athletes.

    For more information on sports psychology see:

  3. Gregg says:

    My son is a 10 year old tournament baseball player. He is a solid player and is most likely the most driven and agressive kid i have seen at his age. His coaches comment on the fact that he comes with the mindset of winning every game. I think this is a problem as he gets extremely angry if he fails, if he strikes out, ground out or makes an error.
    It has gotten to the point where he throws his bat, yells back and is just overall unhappy and mad.
    I spoke to him about it, and it seems he is more concerned with failing than succeeding and enjoying himself. he forgets that he is there because he loves to play and that winning and losing is part of it.
    Any advice on how to help him focus more on the game at hand and less on what the possible outcome could be and to channel his agression properly?

  4. Jeff says:

    Sometimes a strong desire to win on the field may be driven by a very competitive nature or have its root cause in other issues. The behavior you describe is pretty strong for a 10 year old. I would reccommend that you discuss this with your child’s pediatrian or school counselor who may give you insight into the variety of childhood development issues your son may be facing. It is tough to be a kid and there more things they go through than we care to remember.

  5. trish says:

    My 10 year old son is one of the more talented players in our rink — during practice. He simply does not perform in a game. His coaching staff have pretty much given up on him, and I am worried that he will quit Hockey in frustration. He loves the sport, and it will damage his self esteem significantly, if we cannot get through this.

  6. Jeff says:

    Age 10 is too young to be worried about winning or losing or big differences between practice and games. It should be about fun. Having fun is the only way to get good performance during practice or duing a game.

    This is not just a 10 year old issue, it is also a professional issue. There is an article in today’s paper talking about the turnaround at the Dallas Cowboys this season with same basic personnel as last season under Bill Parcells.

    “But it’s Phillips (the Cowboys head coach) who has created an atmosphere that allows the players to maximize their ability because it’s OK to have fun.”

    Emphasize the fun of playing and games should be just one more day with friends, just like practices.

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