The Mental Trick Steve Kerr Used to Overcome Fear of Failure

Steve KerrBefore he was the head coach of the Golden State Warriors—winning two NBA championships in his first three seasons—Steve Kerr was an undersized NBA player who won five NBA titles—three with the Chicago Bulls and two with the San Antonio Spurs.

His lack of size and athleticism caused Steve Kerr to struggle with fear of failure as a player. However, he developed a specific mental technique to raise his confidence and overcome his fears and doubts…


Steve Kerr played more than 16 seasons in the NBA, despite the fact that he was barely 6-3 and, according to Kerr himself, “athletically challenged.”

In overcoming such challenges since high school, Kerr became the most accurate three-point shooter in a single season in NCAA history, and helped lead Arizona to the 1988 Final Four.

Still, despite his success, Kerr’s toughest struggles were with himself. He battled fear of failure from the beginning of his career to the end, and fought to overcome it.

For Kerr, the mental part of the game was of vital importance, and he had his own routine.

“Before every game, I would watch a tape of me playing well, being in the groove, to give myself that positive feeling,” Kerr said. “I wanted to fill my memory with good things so I could draw upon it.”

Kerr [also] had a free-throw routine that he had honed over years and years of practicing, but Kerr didn’t rely upon his routine only. He wanted his mind fully focused on the positive, and used a key to get his mind to the right place and not let fear or doubt have a chance to creep in.

After he performed an action perfectly, he used a trigger to stay positive and give him the best chance to perform.

“In Houston early one season, I shot an absolutely perfect free throw,” Kerr said. “After that, every free throw I took that year, I would say, ‘Houston,’ before I shot it. I wanted to put that picture in my head, that feeling.”

Kerr believed he had to “trick his mind” because he thought it was just too easy to let his mind go to those “dark places” where negativity resides.

“Why give yourself one other thing to overcome out there? You have to overcome your own clutter in your own mind, and not add to it,” he said.

“Fear of failure drives you to work harder to avoid failing,” Kerr said. “But once the game starts, you have to put fear of failure totally out of your mind.”


— Jay Bilas, from his book Toughness

The simple mental technique of reminding yourself of your positive past performances when faced with a challenging situation helped Steve Kerr become one of the most accurate long-range shooters in NBA history. And it’s a trick that can be used by anyone needing to overcome fear or self-doubt.

The above story also serves as a reminder that becoming “mentally tough” or developing a “positive mindset” is rarely something that just happens. Instead, you must choose to develop a positive mental outlook.

To be successful, you have to be disciplined about the way you think. You must use specific techniques to ensure that you are building mental toughness and attacking your goals with a positive attitude.

That means constantly feeding your mind positivity and motivation as well as using mental techniques like the one Steve Kerr described above.

You can’t be passive. You must be proactive about developing a winning mindset.