A chance encounter between a 12-year-old boy and an infamous professional athlete produced a great lesson in overcoming your biggest failures.

You had to see the look on his face to believe it.

And once you did, you realized how important the situation (and the lesson) was.

Some background: My 12-year-old son, Jacob has been a lifelong fan our local NFL team, the Minnesota Vikings.

Our beloved Vikings (who have never won a Super Bowl) were poised to make a deep run in last year’s playoffs when their kicker, Blair Walsh, missed an easier-than-easy field goal that lost the game and knocked the Vikings out of the playoffs.

Like many fans, Jacob was incredulous. He re-nicknamed the kicker “Wide Left Walsh” and even re-enacted the missed kick on his football video games:


Blair Walsh was the most unpopular man in Minnesota after that game. His failure was watched by millions of people live.

He has one job on the football field – to kick the ball through the uprights.

He failed.

An Amazing Encounter

A few days ago, Jacob met Walsh during the Vikings’ summer training camp practices.

Note the look on Jacob’s face as he assesses whether or not he wants Walsh’s autograph:

Walsh 1

Jacob did indeed meet Walsh, and even got him to autograph the hat on Jake’s head in the photo above.

I noticed that while it was easy for him to hate on Blair Walsh from a distance, Jacob’s view of the kicker changed after meeting him face-to-face. It humanized Walsh in a way TV replays and video games never could.

More important, Blair Walsh taught my son that when you fail, you get back up, own your mistake and keep trying. You show back up for work the next day and try again.

Parallels Between Pro Athletes and Professionals

Having covered professional sports as a reporter for the Associated Press and other media outlets during the 1990s and early 2000s, I was able to study elite athletes up close and behind the scenes for almost a decade.

What made all the difference – the only difference, really – with these athletes in terms of failure or success on the playing field was their mental makeup.

All of them had the physical gifts and talents to play at the highest level. And I remember vividly watching the awesome athletic displays they’d put on during practices.

But the most successful ones had an innate ability to deal with failure and pressure during the most important games like few other people I’ve ever observed.

I’d argue the same is true in business – especially as an entrepreneur or small business owner.

Failure is going to happen.

How you get back up and respond is everything.

Unlike Blair Walsh, your biggest failures and mistakes aren’t usually broadcast on live television or talked about nonstop on social media.

But that doesn’t mean they feel any less significant to you at the time.

The next time you fail, take a cue from the Vikings kicker. Pick yourself up, dust yourself off, and get back in the game.

The key to overcoming failure is simple – learn from your mistakes, adjust your approach and try again. And again. And again.

Former NBA star Michael Jordan, arguably the most successful and famous professional athlete of all time, said this about failure: “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.”