Never Waste a Failure

Never Waste a Failure
— Nick Saban



Although heartbreaking for Georgia, Alabama’s win in last week’s football championship game was remarkable in many ways, not the least was Nick Saban’s decision to play his untested freshman quarterback Tua Tagovailoa in the second half. Lots of lessons there! But what caught my attention was Saban’s statement “never waste a failure,” his reference to Alabama’s last-second defeat in the prior year’s championship game. A loss, especially in an important championship game, can provide great motivation for improvement.

In Saban’s world, major failures are clear – games are lost. Even on an individual level, it’s easy to see when a tackle is missed or a ball is mis-thrown. But what about those failures that are not so easy to spot? The good but not best effort, the mistake that no one noticed? Does anyone bring those up in the post-game debrief with the coach?

You bet they do. On any high-performance team, each individual player wants to work at their best so that the team can work at its best. They don’t hide their individual failures, hoping that they won’t be noticed. They shine a light on their mistakes, so that they and their teammates can learn. They can do this because their coaches have attitudes like Saban’s – never waste a failure.

Your best players will own their mistakes, big and small. They will push you for feedback, wanting to get better. Your job is to create an environment that rewards them for owning and sharing their failures – and then making sure that you don’t waste them.

Ask your staff – what did you learn this week? Not just what did you accomplish, but what did you learn? How did you fail – and how did you improve from that failure? Share your failures and learnings too.

Never waste a failure. The only true failure is the one that we fail to learn from.


Karen Walker


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