Pat Fitzgerald: 'Society has taken away the ability for kids to learn from failure'

Posted by: Chris Vannini on Saturday July 29, 2017




Originally published 1/25/16

While much of today’s world is about instant gratification, it’s also about instant reaction, and Pat Fitzgerald says kids are afraid to fail.

At the AFCA Convention in San Antonio earlier this month, Fitzgerald spoke about the pillars of his program and the importance of character — and how he had to learn from his mistakes.

“We define that as who you are when no one’s watching. I failed at that miserably when I was a kid,” Fitzgerald said. “I was awesome around mom and dad, I was spectacular around my girlfriend’s mom and dad — now my wife — I knew how to play the game around coaches, but I was (a jerk). The minute you turned your back, you’d better look out.”

But Fitzgerald learned and improved on and off the field. He admitted to mistakes, and he says kids today are too afraid to make them, and it’s harder to learn. Blow one coverage or drop one ball, players are blasted on social media.

“Kids can’t do that today. It’s gone. Society has taken it away from them,” he said. “Phones, internet, blog sites. You can’t make a mistake as a kid anymore. You can’t learn. You can’t grow. You can’t make mistakes. It makes it incredibly challenging for us as teachers to help kids learn from failure. That’s a great lesson to learn. Especially not to be afraid of it.

“I think it’s pretty debilitating to watch kids who won’t cut it loose because they’re afraid of failure, because they’re afraid they’ll make a mistake and not get another opportunity.”

Along with the character comes the attitude and the willingness to learn. Fitzgerald said he and his five strength coaches are the first to meet players when they walk into the building. If they don’t have a smile or “swagger,” Fitzgerald tells them to come back when they do.

The players have to be excited to learn and understand the process.

“How many of your kids want instant gratification? ‘Coach, I was on time. Where’s a sticker for my helmet?’” Fitzgerald said. “How about the parents? ‘Joey’s a good player.’ Kids don’t understand it takes time. It’s a process. I was a 2-time All-American, and I have the pain of regret because I should have been a 3-time All-American. It was my fault. I wasn’t mature enough to know it at that age, but I didn’t know what consistent hard work looked like day-in and day-out, choice after choice. If you couple that with a great attitude, you’ve got a chance. But it’s not easy.” 

Chris Vannini is in his fifth year with CoachingSearch.com and serves as its managing editor. He has previously written for the Detroit Free Press, The Oakland Press, The State News, MLive.com, 247Sports and SB Nation.  A graduate of Michigan State University, Chris now lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area.  Be sure to follow @coachingsearch and send emails to chris@coachingsearch.com.