Sunday, 14 Jul 2024

Grit: Discovering Resilience and Growth from Failure

Failure is an inevitable part of life, including in sports. However, how coaches and parents respond to failure can profoundly impact a young athlete’s confidence and future success. To help children develop resilience, perseverance, and grit, it is crucial to incorporate certain practices that encourage them to view failure as an opportunity for learning and positive change.

Supporting an Athlete’s Passion

Passion and perseverance are key components of grit, according to Angela Duckworth, New York Times best-selling author of “Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance.” To ensure that young athletes stick with a challenging activity, it must hold personal value for them. If a child shows genuine passion for a certain sport or activity, it is essential to encourage their pursuit of it. On the other hand, if a child participates in a sport solely to please others, they are more likely to quit when faced with minor setbacks. Bill Curry, four-time NFL champion and former head football coach, advises athletes to follow their hearts. Passion is the starting point for cultivating grit, and even in cases where perseverance doesn’t lead to immediate success, valuable life lessons are gained.

Honoring Commitments

When children encounter difficulties or fail to meet expectations in a new sport, quitting mid-season can become a tempting option. However, it is important for parents to instill grit by encouraging their children to finish what they started and honor their commitment to themselves and their teammates. Bill Curry recalls how his father’s insistence on finishing the season helped him forge lasting relationships with his teammates and develop a love for football. This valuable life lesson transcends sports and benefits children in all areas of their lives. By sticking it out for an entire season, young athletes have time to overcome initial hurdles and discover the aspects of the sport that genuinely ignite their passion.

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Allowing Autonomy

Youth sports offer a unique environment for children to learn how to handle failure, but well-meaning parents can hinder this process by rushing to rescue their child from adversity. While it’s crucial to help kids talk through their problems and discuss potential solutions, it’s equally important to let them figure things out and take ownership of their actions. Angela Duckworth highlights the importance of autonomy during a child’s early years. Overbearing parents and teachers erode intrinsic motivation, and part of developing grit involves figuring out one’s life philosophy, learning to bounce back from rejection and disappointment, and distinguishing between low-level goals that should be abandoned quickly and higher-level goals that require sustained tenacity. As children mature, their capacity for long-term passion and perseverance naturally develops.

Providing Constructive Feedback

Supporting young athletes does not mean refraining from calling them out on their failures. On the contrary, constructive feedback is crucial for growth. However, the effectiveness of feedback lies in the foundation of trust and care that has been established between coaches, parents, and athletes. Bill Curry emphasizes that building relationships is at the heart of everything. Athletes who trust and care about their coaches and parents are more receptive to constructive criticism and will give their all when pushed. Conversely, negative responses to negative performances from coaches or parents who haven’t first built a strong relationship can have long-lasting negative effects.

Failing is an integral part of life, but it’s our responsibility as coaches and parents to foster grit as a character trait in young athletes. While watching our children experience failure can be challenging, stepping into our roles as guides and supporters and turning those failures into teachable moments is the most impactful thing we can do for our athletes. As Bill Curry poignantly states, failure is a stepping stone to improvement, and it is our duty to help children transform their failures into successes.

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Q: How can I encourage my child to persevere in a difficult sport or activity?

A: Encourage your child to pursue activities they are genuinely passionate about. When they show enthusiasm for a particular sport or activity, support their pursuit of it. In contrast, if they participate solely to please others, they are more likely to quit in the face of adversity.

Q: Why is it important for kids to honor their commitments in sports?

A: Honoring commitments is a valuable life lesson that extends beyond sports. By sticking with a sport for an entire season, children have the opportunity to overcome initial challenges and discover the aspects of the sport that truly ignite their passion.

Q: How should parents handle their child’s failures in sports?

A: Rather than rushing to rescue your child from failure, it is important to let them navigate through challenges and problem-solve on their own. Offer support and guidance, but allow them to take ownership of their actions and learn from their mistakes.

Q: How can coaches and parents provide effective feedback to young athletes?

A: Building strong relationships based on trust and care is essential. Athletes who feel supported and valued by their coaches and parents are more receptive to constructive criticism. Providing feedback from a place of belief and trust will empower young athletes to give their all and grow from their failures.


In the face of failure, cultivating resilience and grit is paramount for young athletes. By fostering passion, encouraging commitment, allowing autonomy, and providing constructive feedback, coaches and parents can help children develop the skills necessary to navigate failures and turn them into valuable learning opportunities. Failure is an integral part of life, and by embracing it and supporting our young athletes through their journeys, we can guide them towards lifelong success in both sports and beyond.

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