The Goal

The Goal

Saturday, 5 March 2016

On Failure

It has occured to me - in fact at least one person has actually asked me - that people might wonder why I write on my blog about the downs as well as the ups. After all sports psychology seems to indicate that talking about the bad stuff makes it more likely to happen, or even simply that it's bad marketing; after all I know for a fact that team selectors (or potential team selectors) for Wales and GB read this blog.

To my mind, there are three reasons: Firstly, if you don't recognise your failures then you're never going to address their causes except by blind luck; secondly, I don't like the image that some people try to project of flawless performance without effort, as I think that it's discouraging to less experienced and skilled shots; and finally, if you don't try something that you have a significantly probability of failing at, how are you ever going to know your limits?

I think that to get better you have to recognise your failures and learn from them. In this, I significantly disagree with many books on the psychology of shooting ("With Winning in Mind" by Lanny Bassham, for example, which is otherwise a superb book) which tend to recommend that you don't think about your failures or write them down in your diary. What you think about is what you produce, after all. In my daily work as a manager of large, complex projects post mortems are an utterly vital mechanism for improvement; where mistakes, errors of judgement, communications issues and plain old-fashioned cockups are talked through in a dispassionate, learning-driven way to reduce the likelihood of us doing the same thing again next time. By talking about my mistakes as well as successes I want to make failure "discussible", an accepted topic of conversation with a view to learning from those mistakes.

Just as importantly, I want my writing to help other people get better at shooting. I have been fortunate enough to have a great deal of support from my wife, family, friends, coaches and team managers; my contribution is to share what I have learned and how I have learned it, and a lot of those lessons have been built up from one or a series of SNAFUs, disasters, irritations and errors. Inevitably, you're going to get it wrong sometimes, be it in terms of technique, training or the wind, so you may as well learn what you can and move on. Don't imagine that any successes I've had in shooting have come without a lot of hard work. I know that there are people who appear to achieve great results without the hard work, but that ignores the hard work that they have already put in to give them the ability to perform at that level. By ignoring the effort and errors that have gone into producing success, we're

The great Lazarus Lake*, founder of the Berkley Marathons, which are often considered to be the hardest ultramarathon** in the world*** said of them "We have a lot of really educated people. Most of them are people who are very successful. They like challenges. They're used to succeeding and they are not afraid to try something that they'll probably fail." I recently ran my first ultra pretty much to find out if I could move 50 miles on foot at a stretch on a single day. I was pretty sure I could do it, but didn't know that I would do it. It was quite hard and I nearly dropped at 10 miles, but I made it through. Shooting is a little different to running, but the same kinds of ideas apply; how do you know how good you can be if you don't try and push your limits a little. Shooting under difficult conditions - high winds, rain, heat - are more likely to cause you to 'fail' for want of a better word, but if you approach it in the right frame of mind then it will make you a better shooter.

As for senior people in the world of shooting reading this blog and making judgments about me as a result. Yes, I'm sure that will happen and sometimes those judgments may be negative. On the other had, it really comes down to results and attitude: all of our competition scores are in the public domain, and I think my writing demonstrates my attitude. I still have designs on Palma Teams and the Commonwealth Games, make no mistake.

* No, I don't think that's his real name either.

** An ultramarathon is any footrace longer than the marathon distance of 26.2 miles / 42.2 kilometres. Practically, the shortest distance considered to be ultra is 50k; however single-stage races of 50k, 50m/80k, 100k and 100m are reasonably common. There are a small number of single-stage races over 100 miles, such as the Badwater Ultramarathon, which runs from the lowest point in the contiguous US (Lone Pine, Death Valley) to the highest (Mount Witney).

** The Berkley Marathons require simply that you complete 5 circuits of a 20 mile course in under 12 hours for each circuit around a hilly Tennessee backwoods. That's moving at under 2 miles per hour, which is a pretty average walking pace. Should be easy, right? Wrong. Under 1% of people who line up at the start make the finish line, with no one even completing the race in many years. It's not a race that you just rock up at the start of either, many of the guys and gals who enter the Berkley are the elite of the ultradistance world who can run 100 kilometres at a faster pace than you could keep up for 5k. Watch this video if you want a flavour of the race.

1 comment:

  1. It is interesting watching my eldest as she is dipping her toe into shooting (we have joined our local .22 club). they have started her on a rest, to get her used to consistent position/breathing/aiming/trigger release/follow through etc before introducing the wobble of the sling. All seems sensible to me, but it is interesting to see how she reacts to the varying success at grouping. I think there is a tendency for children (let's not kid ourselves, we were probably the same) to want instant success so at the moment, I am focusing on encouraging her to embrace the "fails" as much as the successes and to learn what caused it so she can correct and improve. For all three of my children I want them to be comfortable with the concept of failure, not as I think they will fail, but as I don't think they will learn or strive if they are worried about it. So keep on telling us of your failures and your lessons learnt! (it also makes us feel a bit better and that you are human!).