Fail Beautifully

This “Shouts from the Stands” submission comes from Anthony Pedersen, head site/senior coach for the Rappahannock Area YMCA Stingrays in Fredricksburg, Virginia. 

All opinions are those of their authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of SwimSwam.  

What does it mean to “Fail Beautifully”? Isn’t failing bad? How can something you think is bad be beautiful? If I were to fail in school, I could get in trouble. How can I fail and not get in trouble? These are all questions I get on a regular basis.

First, it is important to know that the failing I am referring to is not failing because you give up. It is not failing because you did not study for a test. It is not failing because you did not try. Instead, I am talking about failing in spite of your best effort. Have you ever worked so hard in a class that you struggled with only to barely earn a B or C? You did all the homework. You got tutoring. You had the opportunity to drop the class, but instead you spent hours upon hours trying to grasp the concepts. And eventually you did, but despite all the effort you still only got a B or C in the class. Yet, that B or C was possibly the most fulfilling grade you ever received. Why? Because despite all the challenges and difficulties you faced you never gave up. In fact, you likely proved to yourself what hard work looks like and you now understand what a sense of accomplishment truly mean. And it felt good.

To “Fail Beautifully” you must take a risk. You must put yourself out there. You must push yourself to the point of physical failure. You make yourself vulnerable by going outside of your comfort zone. This might mean being a little more aggressive earlier in the race than you normally would, doing a couple of extra dolphin kicks off the wall, or putting your head down into the finish before you normally would. These are all skills we work and talk about in practice. These are the skills we want to implement in our races. But many times swimmers are too afraid of being uncomfortable and pushing their limits that they ignore everything we do in practice. These are the swimmers that swim the same races every meet and wonder why nothing ever changes. However, to “Fail Beautifully” we must step outside of our comfort zone. We must push ourselves to our limits.

My swimmers and I talk about making ourselves uncomfortable every day. Because if you never push your self to the point where you fail (physically), you will never know your limits. If you never know your limits, you will never grow and learn how to push those limits even further. That is what makes failure beautiful. The beauty is knowing you have given 100% and understand your limits and you are continuing to expand your limits.

The idea of failing has become so stigmatized. However, I try every day to help my swimmers understand that failing is not a bad thing. When we fail, we learn. When we push our body’s to their limits, we grow. When we do this repeatedly, we become better athletes.

Who remembers Michael Jordan? I know many of you will laugh because I asked this question, but most of my swimmers are familiar with LeBron James or Kevin Durant and there are some who had never heard for Michael Jordan. However, to be Michael Jordan is the epitome of someone who “fails beautifully.” Jordan was once quoted saying the following, “I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. 26 times I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.”

Does anyone look at Michael Jordan as a failure? Instead, almost 20 years later we are still referencing Jordan as one of the greatest basketball players of all time.

The truth is, you will fail far more than you will succeed. You will stumble along the way. You will make mistakes. You will choose to follow comfort instead of testing your limits. You will win races you should have lost. You will lose races you should have won. Instead of looking at these situations as setbacks and true failures, find what you can learn from it. In failure you can learn more than in success. You can learn to be better. You will learn humility. You will learn resiliency. You will learn that you are far stronger than you every imagined. You will understand the true meaning to “fail beautifully.”

If you never take risks and constantly avoid failure you will never know your true potential. Michael Jordan said it best, “You miss 100% of the shots you never take.”

So I will end with this…I challenge each of you every day whether at practice, a swim meet, dryland session, school, work, whatever it may be to make yourself uncomfortable and take risks. Do not run away from challenges, rather embrace them. Allow yourself to fail and when you do fail, both figuratively and literally, do so with dignity and respect. Because than you will have “failed beautifully.”

About Anthony Pedersen

I have been a swim coach for just over 18 years.  As a coach I have gotten to work with athletes in Virginia, Arizona and Texas.  I am currently the Head Site/Senior Coach for the Rappahannock Area YMCA Stingrays (RAYS) in Fredericksburg, Virginia.  You can follow my blog here, or you can follow me on Instagram or Twitter.

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3 years ago

I was a winner, then failed ABSOLUTELY. It was only through the latter experience that I found myself. Now I realize my purpose in life. For me it is simple – reflect the love of the God of my understanding to every person. Had I not failed so miserably and absolutely, I would be void of this amazing find. True story. Nice article to many readers who NEED these gems of wisdom.

3 years ago

“almost 20 years later we are still referencing Jordan as the greatest basketball player of all time.”
There, I fixed the typo for you.

3 years ago

This article describes my relationship with the 2 fly

3 years ago

Lane 4

Elizabeth Wickham
3 years ago

Great article. Thanks for sharing!

3 years ago

“Fail beatifully featuring Tom Shields”