Not All Failures are Equal: Lessons from Basketball

Febrilian Kristiawan

Febrilian Kristiawan / June 27, 2021

4 min read

Fight Club

One sport that I love the most even though I’m a total noob at it is basketball. It’s a sport that revolves around putting the ball inside your opposing team’s basket, as simple as that. But here’s the catch, the basket is located 3 meters from the ground in the NBA (10-feet). That’s why you have to throw the ball from below the basket, which is called “shooting”. The best shooters in the NBA only make around 50-60% of the shots they make. Most NBA players misses around half the amount they shoot. But not all misses are the same, there are good misses and bad misses, and I will show you why.

Shooting the ball is already hard without somebody else “guarding” you. Shooting without anyone close around you means you’re shooting an “open shot” or a good shot, the shot with a good chance that it would go in, but you still can miss. Luckily, if you miss, that’s still good: it means you need to practice more on your shooting skill, but that’s still a good shot. This is what I previously call the “good miss”, a failure that stems out of a good attempt. It’s a failure, but still rather good.

There are also “bad shots”, the shots that are attempted while you’re in a bad position, like being surrounded by opposing players. If you miss, your coach definitely won’t let you play another minute. It is essentially a bad attempt, regardless of you making the shot or not. If you made the shot, that’s probably lucky and you can’t replicate that in the future. Worse, you might actually not learn anything if you keep taking the bad shot. This is the kind of “miss” or failure that stems out of a bad attempt.

I have experienced a lot of failures, it looks as if they’re all the same. But from this reflection, now I think not all failures are the same. I believe there were failures that stemmed out of my bad attempt, for example, trying to study without an enough amount of sleep the previous night. That’s basically a “bad shot”. Of course I wouldn’t be able to focus, it’s not my ability to study that is the problem, but rather my ability to set myself up for a good attempt of doing something (studying). There’s also my personal example of “good shot”, that I’m really proud of, but rather not talk about it just yet. Might update it in a few weeks when it actually “landed in”.

I figured that in order to have a “good shot” in anything, you have to prepare for the best position before execution. This is the example:

Example 1

  • Basketball: Move around, ask for the ball when you're open, then shoot it.
  • Real life: Get a good amount of sleep before doing something mentally exhausting the next day like presenting your company or studying.

Example 2

  • Basketball: If you're surrounded by two players, find a teammate that is open.
  • Real life: If you're overwhelmed by tasks, delegate, or pay freelancers to do it.

Example 3

  • Basketball: If you're exhausted, ask for a some time at the bench to regain your strength (but usually the coach does this without being asked)
  • Real life: If you're stressed or tired, rest.

Life, just like basketball, involves a lot of attempts. It’s only a matter of a “good attempt” or “bad attempt”. Don’t be discouraged by a lot of failures that you might have done. Some of it has to be “good shots”, you just have to carry on and do another “good shot” in your life.