because life doesn’t fit in a file folder

Failure IS an Option: a #LessonLearned by Iris Zimmermann

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After our son tried (and rejected) what seemed like every sport invented, my husband and I were tearing out our hair. Athletic adults who recognize the value of competition, we wanted our son to be involved in something physical… anything, but we were running out of options.

At some point, we heard about the Rochester Fencing Club and from the moment our son held saber, he has loved the sport that fits his personality.

I am fortunate today to have Iris Zimmermann, Olympian and Co-Owner of the Rochester Fencing Club as my guest blogger. Iris holds the distinction of being the first U.S. fencer in history to win a world championship in any weapon or any age category. In 1995, she won the World Under-17 Championships at her first major international event. Four years later Iris became the first US fencer to medal in the Senior World Championships, earning the bronze medal in women’s foil.

Iris has an amazing teaching ethos and runs a terrific program. Of course, she wants students to have fun, but she is all about personal responsibility, good sportsmanship, hard work and patience. You might think a Champion competitor would be all about winning, right? Well, here’s what Iris has to say on that topic. Follow Iris on Twitter @rocfencing.

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Failure Is an Option

Failure is the new “F word”. The more I step into the life of coaching, the more I realize that failure has become something more feared than Snooki in a bathing suit. (If you don’t know who Snooki is, good for you). It’s not just the kids that fear the black cloud of failure, but the parents who put all their hopes into the athletic endeavors of their 6-12 year olds who can’t stand to see little Timmy “fail.” I think this is why so many school and athletic programs have adopted the “everyone wins” strategy.

I’m sorry Timmy, but everyone does not win in this world. Rather than go on a diatribe about the downfall of Darwinism and the culture of healthy competition, let’s start talking about what failure can do for you.

In order to do this, you will need to accompany me on a short trip down memory lane. While training for the 2000 Olympics (yes, I am type A), there was this United States team fencer who had a tattoo on his arm that read: “Victory or Death.” I joked with him about it and said, “Nice tattoo. You must win everything. What’s your secret?” The fencer, who could count height as one of his strengths, looked down at me and glared.

Let’s get this straight. No one is that good. Michael Jordan — “The Greatest Basketball Player of All Time” according to the NBA website — knows this. He said:

“I’ve missed more than 9,000 shots in my career. I’ve lost almost 300 games. Twenty-six times, I’ve been trusted to take the game winning shot and missed. I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life. And that is why I succeed.

Well said, Mr. Nike Air. Let’s take an academic step forward and do some modern research. What does Wikipedia say about failure?

Failure refers to the state or condition of not meeting a desirable or intended objective, and may be viewed as the opposite of success.

Interesting thing – “may be viewed as the opposite of success.” The Wikipedia community is, in general, back and forth on the scale of accuracy of definitions and explanations. However, in this case I would say they hit the nail on the head with the definition.

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Failure is only a view or perception of the opposite of success. The problem with failure is that fear of this perception can keep well-meaning people from becoming great. So, if failure is just a perception, is it possible that if you altered your understanding of this perception you could make failure a valuable tool? For those of you like me that are to the point. Failure is merely a state of mind.

First of all, a person has to get it through one’s thick head that he or she must fail in order to succeed.

When I competed, I think my most powerful tool was that I wasn’t afraid to lose. I somehow knew that within every “failure” there existed an opportunity to learn about any weak points in my game. Having made peace with losing, there was nothing to be afraid of — which made me a very effective fencer at a very young age.

At age 14, I was the youngest to win a Cadet (under 17) World Championship medal and until recently, the youngest at age 16 to win a Senior National Championship title. I owe much of that success to losing competitions because if I was afraid, I would never have tried some very risky actions that ultimately helped me to win important competitions.

What separates the “good” from the “great” is the state of mind they chose to be in when they come up against a hurdle, a loss, or a failure. Unlike many people who are paralyzed by the thought of failure, the successful people are the ones who learn and move on. If you don’t believe me, take it from Michael Jordan.

How has “failing” helped you accomplish your goals? Anything you want to ask a World Champion?

Tweet this Twit @rasjacobson

Is it Okay to Just be Okay?

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Fente d’assaut, originally uploaded by n.vasse.

Today my son participated in his first fencing tournament. He’s been taking lessons in Saber at the Rochester Fencing Club for just under a year and, I must confess, I still can’t tell who scores. Even when the judge is there officiating, I can’t tell who has won the point. My son tries to teach me about the parry and repost and a host of other things with fancy names that I can’t seem to retain. I don’t know what my problem is because I want to understand it, but I just can’t. It’s not that I’m not trying to understand. It just seems like everything is beyond my aptitude. Meanwhile, my 10 year-old understands everything and seems to pick things up easily and by osmosis.

Trying to understand something but not being able to was humbling and it reminded me that not everyone is going to understand the message I am trying to deliver to them. No matter how hard I try, no matter how many visuals I include, whether my class is web-enhanced or not, some of my students still are just not going to get it.

My son didn’t win the tournament, but he did win a few matches. Most importantly, he is willing to keep trying. He was not broken down by the experience of losing. He wasn’t discouraged. He was actually inspired to be better the next time. I guess in some ways I am like an Intro Level Saber teacher; I provide my students with the basics, and some of them will excel and some will be okay. Others will be lousy, and the least inspired of the bunch will drop out.

It is rather awful to not be able to understand something. Frustrating, for sure. And while I suppose it is not the end of the world to not be able to “get it” when it comes to fencing, I am having a hard time convincing myself that it is acceptable for some students to never move beyond a basic skills set when it comes to reading and writing.

Is it okay to just be okay?