Thursday, March 04, 2010

The Fear of Failure

The Fear of Failure - Over-training, Mental Fortitude, and Confidence

Yesterday was the first day in nearly 4 months that I felt tired. It wasn’t the kind of tired that my legs feel, or the kind that leaves me gasping for breath. It was a mental fatigue, leaving my motivation and conviction on the wayside, begging the question, “What’s the point?” It was the first day since Club Nationals, in the doldrums of the off-season, that my awareness finally mumbled, “Enough.” I might have asked my legs to push again, but my heart wasn’t in it. I slowed down, stopped, and within minutes found myself puking out everything in my system; maybe half a cup of water. As I dragged myself from the gym I couldn’t shake a specific memory. It was the last weekend of October in Sarasota and my body was melting in the heat. It sucked my energy, ate away at my leg strength, and collapsed my breathes. I couldn’t beat it, I hadn’t trained properly.

That was the first realization I recalled on the plane ride home – I had been neither mentally nor physically prepared. I thought back in anger of my off-season. Four months of crutches, two months of biking & calf raises, and then just the last four months of scattered practices, countless skipped drills and usually just one cleat on. On that plane ride home, I thought only of time evaporated and opportunities missed. At Nationals, I had over 400 touches, but probably played one of the least memorable tournaments of my life. The frustration and regret consumed me and I decided to remedy that mistake this season.

Confidence is one fickle fellow.
When you have it - nothing can stop you.
When you lose it - it's impossible to find again.

I've always been cocky, confident, and sure of my ability.
Any competition brought out the best in me.
Losing was not an option and I believed in myself unconditionally.
I could accomplish anything I set my mind to and I attacked every challenge with this attitude.
I never gave myself a chance to doubt my talent or physical abilities because deep down, I wholeheartedly believed in myself.

And then, for perhaps the first time in my life - I lost confidence on Thursday October 29, 2009. A week prior to Club Nationals, I majorly tweaked my back in the weight room dead lifting. I was barely cleared to play after seeing a chiropractor 7 days in a row, and entered Nationals without a workout or throw to my name for a whole week. Highly uncharacteristic. I hid every ounce of weakness and pain from all but a few of my closest confidants. I didn't want any excuses.
As Madison prepared for Sockeye, I quickly realized two things: 1) my change of direction was hampered, and 2) my throws were not perfect. As a primary handler -- these are pretty big problems. I discarded these concerns and played the best I could. With the score tied 7-7, I finally flinched, throwing 2 poor turnovers, allowing Seattle to steal half.

It was a like a fire extinguished. I lost confidence in myself. Unlike the hundreds of times before, where my 10 second memory simple erased the outcome, I couldn't shake the feeling that I had let down my teammates. I couldn't recover -- I had lost confidence in myself. It is almost an impossible feeling to describe. With the inner coals barely flickering, it was very difficult to... feel right again. I knew how I was supposed to recover, but I was finding no path to that outcome.

After one week of swine flu post-Nationals, I began training with a new found tenacity – to make up for lost time. I decided the best way to fight my demons would be to kill it as hard as possible. I pieced together a three month workout routine correctly named “Kick Me in the Face.” Over the next 84 days, I practiced/trained/lifted/sprinted for 144 hours. The rest of my time was spread thin between work, Bella, Hodags, and high school wrestling. My tactic of choice was fully committing to my best effort for every exercise of each practice session, and if needed, to recall the pain of under-performing last season. It was all I ever needed to remember. I battled countless workouts and buckets of sweat, clinging to a couple of motivational lines hot on my mind, “Be the change I want to see in myself. Give my best effort! Eagerly accept the hard work and pain – visualizing my desired result.” The reaffirmation of my goals worked and I trained onward.

The one motivation that always keeps me pushing is the fear of failure. Once I set a goal – it is mine to achieve. Nothing can stop me, except for… me. And for the first time in four months, I slowed my pace and eventually waited, pondering any excuse good enough to stop. I tested my muscles, but found my body felt the strongest it’s ever been. I tested my fortitude to continue, but found only stale disappointment and doubt for my certainty. Motivation was blurring just as the end-goal was blurring. Frustration at my weakness, disappointment in myself, and the corresponding lack of willpower all swept into the most powerful emotion I could understand – the fear of failure. Would it be easier to quit than to attempt and ultimately fail?

Instead of giving up, I resorted to the internet to answer my questions about over-training and rest cycles. I read sentences screaming weakness and fluffy-soft excuses, as if written for mid-30’s house wives. Their symptoms of over-training seem normal for anyone working out seriously. They don’t convince me to stop. Instead I tracked down individual stories – legends of Dan Gable and Apollo Ohno who train up to five or eight hours a day for their athletic goals. I ask myself what makes them so strong? If they can do it, why can’t I? I was coming closer to the answer I needed.

If I really want it, neither physical nor mental roadblocks should stop me. The fear of failure – should only make me push harder. The disappointment from last year should only fuel my fire and drive my hunger to be better than that. Here is to the off-season and to learning from my mistakes.