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Tiger Woods is back on the PGA Tour after a long layoff, chasing down his 80th career victory, and I couldn’t be more excited. Golf fans, regardless of their feelings about his personal life, are on the edges of their couches waiting to find out if Tiger’s still “got it,” but I’m just as excited to watch him struggle and possibly fail. Is this some sick fascination I have with human pain and agony? I hope not, although those are a big part of being a golfer. Tiger was, and hopefully will be, one of the world’s most dominant male athletes (there are female athletes/teams who have been much more dominant in their sport than any man ever has…think Babe Zaharias, Lydia Ko, Simone Biles, the US Women’s National Soccer Team, and many more), but I argue there’s more to learn from Tiger when he fails, and I’m not alone…
Economists at the University of Chicago analyzed Tiger’s (and other golfers’) risk aversion when putting and discovered that these professional golfers are doing themselves a disservice by being afraid to fail, especially on eagle/birdie putts. The phenomenon of trying to ensure that a birdie opportunity does not turn into a bogey actually hurts golfer’s overall scores–this research study shows that, if golfers were more aggressive with their birdie and eagle putts (even at the risk of running it by the hole too far to guarantee the next putt), they would score lower. Trust me, these guys controlled for all the variables I could imagine (both as a golfer and academic), and many I couldn’t, leaving me thinking seriously about the danger of being afraid to fail.
What does this have to do with education???
Here’s my conclusion…I’ve learned a lot about my colleagues’ true selves in moments where a fear of failure has reared its ugly head. For example, watching my teammate, Jessica Salcedo, shake off her nervousness about VLOGging, then go nail it, taught me a lot about her. If she was like Tiger, she might not have been able to really “go for it,” and probably wouldn’t have resulted in the “birdie” she made. Check out her Vlogs on Competency-Based Learning here!
The same concept holds true in the classroom, especially under a traditional grading system–being afraid to get an “F” can cause students to become unable to act, but creating a culture that welcomes and embraces failure keeps the ball rolling, so to speak. Honestly, I can’t think of anything valuable humanity has ever accomplished without failing first, so perhaps we should pay closer attention to, and embrace, the process of doing so? I know I will, because my next failure is sure to be right around the corner!