Ever wonder why some people crumble when they don’t get something right and others take it as motivation to work harder? The answer lies in how self-confident people interpret the feedback they get in the face of setbacks.
The best example I have comes from an inspiring and humble source — a young man named Kyle who traveled from Jamaica to try out for my Ryerson Rams soccer team.
Just before tryouts one year, Kyle came up to me and said, “Coach, I’ve got Rams tickets on my Dream Board. I know you won a national championship in Iowa. I want to be on your team.” I love a guy with conviction, so I invited him to tryouts. But he was awful. He had a rubber tree plantation for feet. So when he asked me how he did, I asked, “How would you like to be our equipment manager?” He was crestfallen, but he took the job. A couple of times in the season when we were winning by a lot, I put him in the game just to be nice.
When the season ended, I did exit interviews with the players. Kyle wanted an interview. Who interviews the equipment guy? What do you say? “You folded the pinnies well?” “You blew up the balls?” But I did it. Kyle put me on the spot: “Coach, what do I need to do to get better?” I knew I needed to be genuine: “You can’t juggle a thousand times, your feet are really, really stiff and you aren’t very strong. Oh, and there are three other All-Canadian centre-backs ahead of you.”
He sat there for a minute and said, “Yeah, but coach, you know, I think I can do those things, can I…?” That’s when I realized that I had to be really blunt: “Kyle, even if all the players in front of you went down, you’d probably only be on the bench.” I figured that would do it. But what did he say? “So, you’re saying there’s a chance?” I kid you not. I was thinking, “You will never make this team in a million years.” He was thinking, “I’ve got a shot!”
The next year, Kyle showed up for training camp in way better shape. He’d been lifting weights and running. He played better! But he didn’t make the team. There was no happy ending. He was even more devastated.
The year after that, my team needed center midfielders — a different position from the one Kyle played. I called a club coach I knew and he said he had a few guys he could send to the tryouts.
I’ll never forget that moment. My assistant coach and I were getting the drills set up when two guys came in from the parking lot. My spine started to tingle. One of them was Kyle! I thought, “Daggone it, bloody heck!” Then I said to myself, “Okay, Ivan, just relax. Humour him. No harm in that.”
Kyle tried out again. And again he just wasn’t good enough. But the other guy was. So, the next day while on the bus with the players, I got out my phone to call the other guy. When he answered, I explained that I wanted him to play in an upcoming game against Guelph. He said, “I’ll be there. Thanks, Coach. Just shoot me an email.” I said, “Okay, what’s your address?” “It’s Kyle dot…” Inside my head I thought, “Noooooo!” I had switched the numbers. I hung up the phone and thought, “Well, what can I do? He’s on the team now. But he’s not going to play. He’s going to sit on the bench.” So he came to the game. He sat on the bench.
And then the most bizarre thing happened.
One centre-back went down. A second centre-back went down. Then the third centre-back went down. I had no choice but to put Kyle in the game. And guess what? He was a man possessed. He was the best player on my team — by a long shot. Not only did he play in that game, but he also played in every game for the rest of the season.
The team went undefeated and ended up number two in the country — the highest ranking ever for the Ryerson Rams. When we played at the national championship, guess who was our starting centre-back? Kyle. I had cut him three times!
Confident people respond to failure by bouncing back and building their confidence even higher. They see the information they get after a setback as feedback to help them improve rather than affirmation that they are no good.
“So… you’re saying there’s a chance…”
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