| | Empowering Through Failure

Author / Carl Case


Atychiphobia – The fear of failure and ultimately, the single greatest barrier to success.

This is probably one of our greatest fears in life, and I know it’s mine. We can all vividly recall our greatest failures whether in training, sport, or life. It can be paralyzing, challenge our confidence, or keep us from taking new, potentially risky adventures. Failure doesn’t have to be feared; to do so gives it all the power and leaves you hopelessly with none. Take the power back, start looking at failure as feedback, a learning experience, and Empower Your Performance.

Just like we have lifting faults, we have failure faults.

No matter the situation, the solution is the same: We have to coach! Failure represents an opportunity for us as strength and conditioning coaches, but we have to recognize reactions to failure in order to attack the constraining factor of fear. Without noticing them, failure reactions turn into failure routines athletes will default to when they face failure whether in sport or in life.

At the 2016 Power Athlete Symposium, Tex McQuilkin broke down the reasons athletes fail into seven possible reactions. If you see any of these, it is your responsibility to step in and turn it into a teachable moment in order to Empower Performance well beyond the weight room:

  1. Frustration: Emotions and expression
  2. Aggression: Defense and destructive
  3. Insecurity: Doubts and should-haves
  4. Loneliness: Isolating yourself/self-protection
  5. Uncertainty: Avoiding mistakes and responsibility
  6. Resentment: Blame and excuses
  7. Emptiness: Lost capacity to enjoy

Falling victim to any of these failure routines can be costly on game day. However, the weight room provides us the opportunity to introduce failure in a controlled, low cost environment. Our Bedrock program inherently provides multiple teachable moments with our athletes, because failures are inevitable and a necessary part for establishing a Base Level of Strength. After all, you have to stress to progress. Through this constant stress the Bedrock program is able to attack the limiting factors of a novice athlete:

  1. Trainability
  2. Biomechanical Efficiency
  3. Neuromuscular Efficiency
  4. Psychological Factors
  5. Tensile Strength

We know that athletes need at least three failures, aka resets, in both squat and deadlift to establish themselves as a trained athlete. We can make the assumption that by the time an athlete has exhausted Bedrock, they have failed at least three other times at all the other lifts. This shakes out to at least 15 failures (not counting any reloads at weights) in about a six month period.

The deeper meaning? We’re looking at at least 15 opportunities for us to attack that limiting factor of Psychology and develop ourselves as coaches! During the 2016 Power Athlete Symposium, Aaron Ausmus spoke about developing a coaching philosophy, and teaching an athlete how to deal with failure should be a part of that philosophy.


Teachable Moments: Don’t lose the forest for the trees

Don’t think about successfully completing the plan but successfully completing the mission.” – Andy Stumph

It can be easy to get lost in the day-to-day grind of the Bedrock program. The plan is to come in and successfully complete the 3×5, 1×5, or 5×3 strength that’s programmed for the day. Athletes are focused on the day and coaches are targeting each athletes’ Base Level of Strength. This is our chance to remind our athletes what the big picture is — aka the mission, aka the forest. Train your athletes to be leaders. Help them maintain their situational awareness of the training day and keep their heads up, looking at the bigger picture.

“Calm Under Fire”

Say they come in for their squat 3×5 and have been crushing their progressions consistently. On the first set of this training day however, they only manage three of the five reps. From the get go it is clear they have failed the day’s 3×5, but they still have two more sets, plus whatever else is left in the training day.

How does one failure affect the rest of the day? What’s their failure reaction? Do they hang their head and close off? Do they get pissed off, aggressive, or throw a tantrum? Or do they take it in stride and keep pushing?

How they handle this situation will transfer to the field. We need our athletes to be in control of their emotions. Andy Stumpf presented this during the 2016 Power Athlete Symposium on how to be an effective leader. When shit starts to go wrong, it will be infectious to the rest of the team if the leader stays cool, calm, and collected. But it goes both directions. An emotional and negative reaction will also impair their situational awareness. Leadership is something that can be taught, not something you just have, and it is learned through exposure and practice such as failing to hit all 15 reps in training.

So what, now what?

So what you failed? Now what are you going to do? The athlete shouldn’t believe,“I failed and now the remaining training day is a waste”, but instead take the attitude of, “Ok, I have failed my goal for the day. So what? Now I am going to move onto Plan B. I didn’t get five reps on my first set, on my second set I am going to get X.” Find out what their Plan B or C or D, etc is. If they don’t have one, help guide them.

When I played rugby, I had a coach tell me that you have to play the game with short-term memory; be able to identify what went wrong and then emotionally separate yourself. Don’t dwell on it, and move on to what’s next.

Our emotions can affect the outcome, but it is usually in a negative manner. This is the opportunity to teach our athletes how to make contingency plans. Andy called this being a Forward Thinker, which is the opposite of being a Reactive Thinker. There is going to be a lot of shit that doesn’t go the way it was planned before the game, but athletes need to have a forward thinking mentality and have multiple options in mind.

No plan is perfect; expect deviations.


Testing the Failure Reaction

There will be plenty of opportunities in Bedrock to attack these constraining factors, but it doesn’t mean that you have to wait until then to start preparing your athletes. Here is a test that I want you to implement with your athletes next time you see them, but don’t let them know it’s a test.

Max Effort Partner Resisted Plank 

The success of this test all comes down to execution. We need the athletes to push each other, and fight to failure. If they do this then you will see exactly what I have been talking about. Record the frustration, aggression, insecurity, loneliness, uncertainty, resentment, or emptiness reactions of your athletes. When you notice any of these remember this is your chance to Empower Performance. Don’t let failure reactions turn into routines your athletes will default to when they face failure.

Through this, leaders will emerge. Who was able to remain calm under fire and have an infectious effect on the rest of their teammates?  Remember: the biggest lie is that an athlete will rise to the occasion, when in fact they fall to the level of their training.

Comment below on what you observe in your application of this test.

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Carl Case

Carl Case has been an athlete his whole life, playing both football and rugby in high school. After high school, he directed his focus to rugby where he went on to become a collegiate Midwest All Star. Carl continues to play rugby on a mens team near South Bend, and was part of a National Runner Up team. He found CrossFit and then Power Athlete as a way to fuel his rugby performance. He has been following the Power Athlete methodology since it’s launch in 2009 and attended his first CrossFit Football seminar in August of 2009.

After an introduction to CrossFit in 2007, Carl became a certified coach in 2009 and co-owner of CrossFit South Bend in 2011. In addition to coaching CrossFit and Power Athlete inspired classes at the gym, Carl has been coaching high school rugby since 2009. He uses the CrossFit Football and Power Athlete concepts to help his young athletes identify their goals and provides pointed instruction to help achieve those goals.


  1. David MCK on March 8, 2017 at 4:07 am

    Great article Carl. Failure is inevitable, how we respond is up to us!

  2. Stacey Hood on October 26, 2017 at 1:26 pm

    I came across this post earlier this AM and man, what an eye-opener. I can’t think you enough for this.

    • Carl Case on October 27, 2017 at 5:04 am

      Stacey, glad that it helped you in some way!

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