Failure is the Father of Learning

ImagePhil Brabbs was a placekicker for the University of Michigan. On August 31, 2002, he lined up for the most important field goal attempt of his career. With five seconds left on the clock and his team trailing the Washington Huskies 29-28, he was called upon to kick a 44-yard field goal in order to wind the game. Over 100,000 Michigan fans were staring with hopeful anxiety.

Brabbs wasn’t having a good day. He missed his first two attempts. As he jogged off the field at halftime, Brabbs was booed by the sellout crowd. During half-time warm ups just before the third quarter, he missed every attempt. As a result, Brabbs was benched.

Yet, after the backup kicker missed a crucial field goal, Brabbs was given another chance. As the time expired on the clock, his 44-yard kick flew between the uprights, giving Michigan a 31-29 win. His teammates mobbed Brabbs while the fans cheered. “I could have died right there,” Brabbs said, “and I’d have died happy.” To this day, among Michigan fans, his game-winning field goal is simply called, “The Kick.”

But soon after “The Kick,” a major injury sidelined Brabbs. He quit the team, graduated with a degree in engineering, was hired by an IT company, married his college sweetheart, and had three children. But ten years later, in the summer of 2012, Brabbs, who is a professing Christian, delivered the commencement address for Frankenmuth High. Everyone was expecting him to mention “The Kick.” So, owning the moment, he looked the students in the eyes and said, “It’s okay to fail. Sometimes, its the misses that propel you forward.”

In a personal blog post, Brabbs expanded on that message:

Ten years later… I am now thankful for the misses, because to this day, they are helping guide me through some of life’s toughest challenges. So, let’s raise our glasses to the many misses we have in life, whether missed field goals, snaps that got away, or an occasional botched hold. Those dark moments may just be the predecessor of a really great moment.

Or as I like to say, repetition is the mother of learning, but failure is the father!
Adapted from Matt Woodley,, and Lee Jenkins, “Life of Kickers,” Sports Illustrated (9-10-12) 

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