It felt like I was just hit by a truck. My head crashed hard on the field causing it to throb in pain. It was my first football practice since moving to the United States from Canada, and I was enduring torture.

The player who clobbered me was DJ Jones (#73 in the picture) a 6’5, 310lb offensive lineman who went on to play in the NFL.

What have I gotten myself into?

I thought, as I lay on the ground with my whole body aching. I was considered a good player in my first year of high school in Canada. But compared to these Americans, I was basically worthless.

I was small…

I was slow…

And I was Canadian…

These kids had grown up in an environment dedicated to the game of football. I grew up in an environment where football is for kids who aren't co-ordinated enough to skate.


For those of you unfamiliar with high school football in the U.S., there are 2 teams you can play on – varsity and junior varsity. The better players play on the varsity team, and the lesser players play on the junior varsity team.

In my sophomore year, I didn’t get playing time on either. I was technically on the junior varsity team, but I wasn’t even a backup. I was the backup’s backup!

Even worse, my role on the team was essentially to be a tackling dummy for the varsity team. They needed players to run plays against that they didn’t care about injuring, and I was their guy.

After weeks of getting pummeled by players twice my size and no playing time to show for it, I thought long and hard about quitting. I loved football. I had played it all my life. But maybe I just didn’t have what it takes to play football in America with the “big boys.”

I felt like a failure, and I decided to tell my parents that I was going to quit.

But as I talked with them about quitting, they helped me realize that with each passing week, I wasn’t proving that I was a failure. I was proving that I was capable of handling whatever they threw at me.

I was a small, slow, Canadian kid, yet I was tough enough to hang in there with future NFL players every single day.

All of the sudden my perspective shifted.

I realized that if I can endure that pain, then I could endure the pain that it will take to get stronger, faster, and smarter. If I can take the beating in practice, then I can take another rep in the weight room, another sprint on the field, and another 30 minutes of studying my position.


After changing my perspective, I showed up to the next practice with renewed enthusiasm. I had a long road ahead of me, but I knew that if I could stay mentally tough, I could get playing time on the varsity team eventually.

So I became one of the hardest workers on the team – knowing full well that I was capable of enduring anything at this point.

The next year, I still wasn’t very good. But due to my work ethic, the coach started me on the junior varsity team over a more talented player.

To most football players, starting on the junior varsity team in your junior year is nothing to be proud of. But to me, it was a huge small win. It was proof that I was on the right path because I was one step closer.

That small win catapulted me into a grueling off-season of training. It was my last year of high school, and my last chance to earn a spot on the varsity team.

So I lifted weights every day.

I showed up to all optional training sessions.

And I focused all of my willpower on earning a starting position.

Then the week before our first game, the coach named me the starting defensive end.

I made it. After all of the painful practices, the hours of training, and overcoming the urge to quit, I earned my place as a starter on the varsity team.

And that wasn't the end of the story.

Because our underdog team went on to win our first State Championship in over 25 years – an accomplishment I could never have dreamed of when I first moved to America.


I wasn’t the only one who was in pain during sophomore year.

My parents saw that I was starting to hate football. They saw the size of the players I was up against and knew the role my coach was using me for. It pained them to see me come home from practice every night demoralized.

That is why I am eternally grateful to them for talking me out of quitting. It would have been really easy for them to simply accept my wishes, tell me “well, you gave it your best shot,” and breathe easy as I took my seat in the stands.

But then I would have never learned two of the most important lessons of my life:

  1. I am capable of handling failure.
  2. If I work hard and persevere, then amazing things are possible.

These are lessons that people have to learn through experience. I can tell you a hundred stories of failure and perseverance, but it will never truly stick with you until you prove to yourself that you can “take the punches” and keep moving forward. [1]


Although the value of learning from failure can be applied to all of us, I directed this article to be about children because there is a self-esteem movement across the world that suggests kids are fragile, emotional, and incapable of handling failure.

So we need to shelter them from failure. We need to constantly praise their results, tell them they're brilliant, and “give everyone a trophy.” [2]

To illustrate the downside of this movement, let’s take the story of Kobe Bryant.

When he was twelve years old, Kobe was about to give up basketball forever. He had just completed his summer basketball camp and was going home a disgrace.

Kobe didn’t score a single point. Not one jump shot. Not one free throw. Nothing. He was the worst player in the entire camp. Even worse, his father was a professional basketball player.

Imagine the sense of failure that Kobe must have felt after that. He was only 12, he adored his father, and he must have felt like he let him down.

But then Kobe read about one of his heroes, Michael Jordan. He learned how Michael got cut from his high school basketball team, but didn’t quit. Getting cut motivated Michael to outwork everyone around him to prove his coach wrong.

When Kobe learned this, a fire was created inside of him that would never be put out. He wanted to work harder than everyone else for the rest of his basketball career—and he did. [3]

The relentless work ethic he developed after that day became legendary. And because of it, Kobe will go down as one of the greatest players of all time.

Now imagine instead that Kobe’s parents wanted to shelter him from that failure. To do so, they demanded that he be given a trophy at the end of the camp. Or, even worse, they demanded the other kids in the camp allow Kobe to score in order to boost his self-esteem.

What would have happened?

Undoubtedly Kobe would have felt better after the camp. But it wouldn’t have allowed him to feel the pain of failure, learn from it, and use it to motivate him to outwork everyone around him.

It’s tempting to build up your children’s confidence by praising their natural abilities and sheltering them from failure. It’s not easy to instill the value of learning from failure when they can’t fully grasp yet how it will help them.

That is why most parents choose the easy route. They choose to shelter them from failure, to ensure their feelings aren't hurt, and to give them a trophy for simply showing up.

You must fight against this temptation.

You must allow them to take chances, allow them to fail, and allow them to learn through their own experience that it is not the end of the world. They can get up, keep trying, and continue to learn and grow.


Nobody wants his or her kids to fail, but failure is a part of life.

The pain I felt on the football field was bad. I wanted it to end more than anything. But by persevering I proved to myself that I’m capable of persevering through hard times. And, in the end, the results were better than I could have ever expected.

Failing is tough. It hurts the self-esteem. But if your child learns how to deal with failure, it will give her the confidence to take risks, learn from mistakes, and persevere. And isn’t that what we wanted out of the self-esteem movement in the first place?