Failure. The ‘F’ word no one wants to hear. For athletes, this word hits home. Any kind of “defeat” we experience whether it’s from a game, match, or not making a PR, can be crippling to our sense of achievement.

With the work we put in everyday during practices, it’s hard to not see the outcome we hope for. And like everyone else, we’ve had our share of failed moments.

Back home, our field hockey team had won two state championships before I joined. It had long standing traditions, many league title wins, all conference players, and a lot of star athletes who advanced to the collegiate level. That kind of legacy fired me up as I prepared to play my freshman year of high school. And our team was good – we had won our league title, sectionals, and were set on winning states. 

coach kell as a freshman on her high school field hockey team.

We made it to the state quarterfinals, the state championship game within our reach, just two steps away. We had victory on our minds. But with a close game against Watertown, our rival, we ended the season there. I can remember that day in 2010 like it was yesterday, and that feeling when the final buzzer blew is something that’s still hard to forget. Looking up at the scoreboard with a huge knot in my stomach, all I could think about was what I could have done differently. The feeling that it was too late, that the season was over, had set in so quickly. We had failed.

That loss was a hard pill to swallow. But it was a reality check. It’s true when they say that you win some and lose some – it’s part of life and the human experience. At the end of the day, all you can do is learn from it. After that season-ending game, we knew we wanted to come back better for the next season. We put in extra work on and off the field, during the off season, to be better prepared. We took training more seriously with more of my team members started playing field hockey all year round and we learned from our past mistakes.

You need to experience failure to be able to build what you want. That loss helped us make changes in our own game. It helped me to not only become a better athlete but a smarter one. I started to pay attention to the small details of my game and turned what was an emotionally devastating moment into the fuel I needed to do more. I’ve nurtured my spirit of not giving up, of staying determined, of persevering. We used to describe our success back then as “inches.” Though small, an inch could make or break a game.

canton high school fH team holding up the state championship trophy.

Failure has become such a charged word; attached to it, there’s disappointment, frustration, feelings of hopelessness, and shame. But at the end of the day, it is only one word whose meaning has been warped into something else. Let’s re-imagine the word: failure is success, in progress.

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