The Importance of Failing Like a Champion

When was the last time you went all-in on something in the water and totally bombed?

I mean, you really got after something in the water, pursued it for an extended period of time, left it all in the pool, and then truly fell flat on your face?

Most often, our “failures” look like this:

  • We write out a goal, but wary of the risk of failing, never give more than 50% effort, not fully committing, shelving the goal for a later date…
  • We work hard at practice, but when we get to the finish line we give a slightly-less-than-great effort, wanting to save our ego the possibility of disappointment…
  • We talk ourselves out of starting altogether. We term it a failure, but we never even take a first meaningful step.

These aren’t outright failures.

They are fades.

And they are much worse than your big, all-in failures.

The benefits of falling flat on your face

It might not seem like there is a difference here.

Fading…failing?

Sounds a little bit like we are playing word semantics.

But there is a serious difference between trying and not succeeding (failing) and not trying and not succeeding (fading).

For starters, in the examples I listed above, you don’t learn a thing from “failing” this way.

A right and proper failure is highly instructive. How can you learn what works, what doesn’t, what your strengths are, how fast you can improve, if you aren’t even failing properly?

In a cruel way, it turns out you are even failing at failure! Ouch.

Secondly, fading instead of failing promotes a false narrative about failing that keeps you from fully committing to your goals.

You don’t know what it takes to be successful because you never truly try.

There’s never a full effort.

What it takes to be successful remains ambiguous, and the stack of fades in your background remind you that you don’t have the commitment to see it through.

Lastly, there is that whole regret thing.

Fizzling out with your goals never provides an opportunity to see what you are capable of. Just another wasted opportunity that you end up regretting. Weeks, months, years from now, there will be the moments where you rue the missed opportunities…

“I wonder what I could have done in the pool if I’d bought in to the workouts.”

The truth about failing properly is this:

A true, explosive failure soaks up your full effort. It requires the best of you. Which, in a way, doesn’t make it a failure at all. 

Understanding that last part is key. This can allow you to take some honor in your epic fails and also encourages you to give a fuller effort in the pursuit of success.

Going all-in and failing is harder than it looks.

I can understand why the concept of failure is so terrifying. There is a lot of perceived risk in going after something that means a lot to us.

  • What if we don’t have the ability and mental fortitude to conquer the hard work and competition?
  • What if we invest all that time and energy on trying to accomplish something majestic in the water, only to fall short on race day?

But here’s the rub…

This kind of all-in, all-out failure is actually quite rare.

I mean, how often do you really go all-out on your goals?

Leave nothing to chance?

The kind of failure you are usually experiencing isn’t that. It’s fading.

We worry and stress about the big fails waaaay more often than they actually come to pass.

And so, we fade.

(One fun study took a group of people and had them journal out what they were worried about and how often those worries came true. Those worries only came to pass about 9% of the time, with a quarter of the participants worries not coming to pass at all.)

Better to have our goals go out with a whimper than risk failure, our subconscious quietly tells us.

Is it a fade or a fail?

Think back to the last time you went all-in and failed.

I don’t just mean all-in with wishful thinking, but all-in with deliberate, consistent action.

You fully committed to the program. Showed up to every practice you could (plus a couple extra for good measure). Ate like a champion. Left nothing to chance.

Race day comes around, and the race of your dreams turns into the race of your nightmares.

Whether it’s getting DQ’d, choking at the last moment, or getting injured day of the race, you got slapped upside the head by the worst possible thing that could happen to your performance.

Reflecting on that failure, it stings, right? You know it. I know it. We have all been there.

But it didn’t destroy you.

At all.

And if anything, there are some things you took from that big old failure that strengthened you.

  • Maybe the failure made you so mad that you doubled down on your commitment moving forward.
  • Maybe you realized that you are way more resilient than you give yourself credit for.
  • Maybe, for the first time, you got a clear idea of just how much work is going to be required to crack your PBs like a stale cracker.

All things you can never truly appreciate and understand without having walked the path yourself.

Contrast this to the times where you fizzled out on your goals. When your effort quietly whimpered off into the dark.

What did you learn from that? Did you come back better prepared? More motivated? Or did you steadily learn the habit of half-stepping your goals?

Commit to the risk of failure.

Now, I am not saying the goal is to purposely fail.

The point isn’t to be a spectacular failure. Success is what we are after. All day. The plan revolves around crushing your PBs, winning gold, taking down state records, putting up championship banners, etcetera.

I want you to achieve the big, greasy goals you have for yourself in the water.

But you can’t come to terms with the work required to be successful without being okay with the risk of failure. Success of any kind comes pre-packaged with the considerable chance of failing.

This seems like an easy concept, but think about the times you self-sabotaged your training, lifestyle habits, nutrition, mindset because you struggled with the thought that you might fail.

Get comfortable with the thought you might fail, and that you are going to be okay even if it happens, and that you are better off in every way imaginable to properly fail (if it comes to that).

And while most swimmers will say that they understand this (“I know, I know”), they still seemingly go out of their way to find ways to fizzle and fade instead of risking failure.

So…

When putting together an action plan for your goals this season, and looking at the work required to achieve it, and the customary ups and downs your season is guaranteed to include, it’s worth remembering:

  • Chasing excellence means accepting the risk of failure.
  • Better to fail than to fade.
  • Proper failures help you become successful more quickly.

ABOUT OLIVIER POIRIER-LEROY

Olivier Poirier-Leroy is a former national level swimmer. He’s the publisher of YourSwimBook, a ten-month log book for competitive swimmers.

Conquer the PoolHe’s also the author of the recently published mental training workbook for competitive swimmers, Conquer the Pool: The Swimmer’s Ultimate Guide to a High Performance Mindset.

It combines sport psychology research, worksheets, and anecdotes and examples of Olympians past and present to give swimmers everything they need to conquer the mental side of the sport.

Ready to take your mindset to the next level?

Click here to learn more about Conquer the Pool.

COACHES: Yuppers–we do team orders of “Conquer the Pool” which include a team discount as well as complimentary branding (your club logo on the cover of the book) at no additional charge.

Want more details? Click here for a free estimate on a team order of CTP.

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Markster

Ledecky take notes.

Yozhik

Isn’t it an oxymoron – failing like a champion? What is that – the champion of failing? Something masochistic? “The Grace In Defeat” by our Great Missy that went nowhere, that I understand.

About Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy

Olivier Poirier-Leroy has been involved in competitive swimming for most of his life. Starting off at the age of 6 he was thrown in the water at the local pool for swim lessons and since then has never wanted to get out. A nationally top ranked age grouper as both a …

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