Athletes: You are FREE to FAIL. Yes, fail.
I keep thinking: I wish someone told me this when I was growing up playing hoops. Like many young athletes, in love with their sport, I lived and died with each performance. I tied my self-esteem, my self-worth, to the results of my basketball games. If I played well I was riding a high, if I played poorly I would be brooding and upset for hours or more. I couldn't separate who I was as a person from what I chose to do. And then I met someone hugely influential to my thinking and he put it cleanly:
You are not your sport. You are a human being who chooses to play a sport.
He went on.
If you go 0 for 10 in a game, is there a tiger in the corner of the gym that they let out to go eat you? When you go home, will your parents still love you? (No, and yes, in that order).
You are not your sport.
You are a human being that chooses to play a child's game because you grew up enjoying it. You choose to give it value and #makeitmatter - as you should! You care about that which you love and that which you commit time and energy to. However, you are much bigger than the results of a sport. You are many things, to many people: a son, a brother, a friend, a student, an activist, a volunteer, a poet, a nature lover, and now: a father, a husband, a coach, etc. All of these take up parts of your life that make up the full view. Basketball player - and now coach - are just one of the many roles.
It was such an important distinction. So simple, and yet so profound.
The thing is, athletes and others who devote so much of themselves to their craft, often get so blinded by their devotion and desire to be great that they lose sight of this sort of perspective. This #athleticidentity can often leave them empty when things are not going their way, or too full of themselves when they're doing well. The reality is that the other roles in your life, especially those that are representative of your relationships (family, friends, colleagues) are more indicative of WHO YOU ARE AS A PERSON than the athlete (or coach) role.
Once you learn this, understand it deeply, and accept it, you realize: you are free to fail.
The funny flip here is that once you internalize this idea, you actually perform better! You are more confident in what you do as you recognize that the results don't define you as a person. And when you are more confident and playing loose, you play better.
Essentially, this concept is a process of maturation by which you gain the proper perspective of where your sport fits in the overarching view of your life. It is a recognition of what is truly important in our one, fleeting, short life, and an acceptance that our purpose as humans goes well beyond the trivialities - though we care about them - of what transpires in a game.
It's important to note: this doesn't mean you shouldn't care! This doesn't mean you can just toss aside playing poorly or you shouldn't feel hurt/bothered if you lose. Of course you should care! Of course it can drive you to practice harder, train more effectively, and continue to put forth the effort. Sport perspective doesn't allow you to have an easy out when things get hard. You are still committing to something you care deeply about, but you recognize it doesn't mean more than how you behave off the court. What it does best is separate out the two spheres; your athletic realm and your personhood, so that you don't let one bleed into the other.
Try an activity to help bring this home: take a piece of paper and list out all the roles you play in your life (daughter, sister, cousin, student, co-worker, cyclist, whatever they may be). Think deeply about what they are and what they mean to you. Then, on the back of the page, make a large circle to create a pie graph. In that pie graph, create slices based on the percentage size of each of the roles based on 100% of who you are. Athlete should undoubtedly be one of them! However, you will recognize in doing so that the others make up the majority. Or so I believe :)
So, remember: you are free to fail in your sport. That is a source of confidence! You don't have to be nervous or put pressure on yourself entering any particular game, because it is in fact just that, a game! It is not indicative of who you are as citizen of the world. That is much greater. You are a human being, complete with ideas and hopes and feelings and thoughts and care. Whether or not a shot goes in or a shot goes out could never define you.
You are not your sport. You are a person, and you choose to play sports. Big difference!