Fear of Failure

Kristy Eckert

My son was sobbing, begging me to let him out of swim team assessments.

"I … changed … my … mind," he cried.

I rattled off everything you would expect a coach's kid to tell her own (very) competitive child: There's no crying in sports. Nothing good comes easy. No, you won't win every race, but if losing didn't hurt, winning wouldn't feel so good.

"But what if I don't make it?" he sniffled.


That thought literally hadn't occurred to me. I mean, he's 6. He's a super-athletic kid who took swim lessons as a toddler, was jumping off the high dive alone by 4 and rode waves in the ocean at 5. As long as he can swim, he makes the team, right?

I walked to the pool lane where kids were being assessed. I spotted one of Coop's buddies, who Coop watched swim a beautiful freestyle and impressive backstroke.

Enter lump in throat.

Apparently, Momma did not do her research. Because I didn't even have goggles, and these kiddos were practically Olympic-ready. I talked quietly with the coach, who was as kind as she could have been. No, swim team doesn't teach the kids strokes; they must know those already. Here, they improve.


Clearly, Cooper wasn't ready. And it was 100 percent my fault.

But they say that resilience is the most important characteristic of successful people. And to be resilient, one must learn to fail. Because until we do, we don't know we can overcome. And until we know we can overcome, the fear of failure can eat us alive (or at the very least have us at a pretty pool on a perfect day crying crocodile tears).

So, because I love him more than life itself, I pep-talked my kid like a pro and told him to slide into the pool.

He paddled his little heart out, smile spread widely across his face. He tried his darndest to mimic the giant strokes he had watched other kids use. He even flipped over and gave a backstroke his very best go, joy emanating from his every muscle even as he flailed.

He emerged looking positively triumphant.

The swim coach felt terrible. But not, I assure you, worse than me.

"Buddy, I am so, so proud of you," I kneeled down. "And I am so sorry, but you need more lessons before you're ready for swim team. I should have known that, and I'm sorry. So we'll sign you up for them, you can work really hard, and then you can try again next year."

Brace for ensuing tears.

He looked down, understandably deflated. But there was no pouting, no questions. He looked up. No tears.

"Can we get lunch now?" he asked.

As we walked out, he spotted his friend.

"Congratulations for making swim team," Coop said sincerely. "I wasn't good enough for swim team."

Heart breaks into approximately 3,000 pieces.

He didn't say anything else until we got in the car.

"Are you guys disappointed in me?" he asked softly.

"Are you kidding me?" Daddy said. "We couldn't be any more proud."

And in the end, I got an answer to a question I had never even considered: What happens if he doesn't make it?

We dry off, hop in the car, roll down the windows and head to Raising Cane's. Because chicken fingers heal all wounds.

(That goes for Momma, too.)

Kristy Eckert is a Powell mom and founder of Kristy Eckert Communications. You can reach her at kristy@kristyeckert.com.