Successfully Dealing with Sports Adversity & Failure

Sport psychologists regularly advise athletes of the importance of developing resiliency skills (or mental toughness) in order to maximize athletic skills and successfully deal with sports adversity and failure.  In fact, there’s an old saying “It’s not how many times you fall down, but how many you get up,” suggesting that our ability to use failure as a teaching tool is an invaluable lesson for sports (and life) success (AHPS).

Young athletes can really benefit from developing their resiliency skills, as the ability to quickly bounce back from adversity is something that will serve them well throughout their athletic career.  Kids, even at young ages, can be taught the importance of making decisions when failure occurs (which it inevitably will) and look to find ways to learn from the experience rather than use failure as evidence that trying again is a waste of time.

For example, lets take baseball and softball (two summer sports a lot of kids play).  In both sports, it is not uncommon to occasionally strike out — even big leaguers do this.  As a parent (or coach), you can help your child inoculate against the stress of dealing with a strikeout by normalizing the experience ahead of time (meaning you should talk to your child early and often about how strikeouts happen to all players, but what is most important is how you learn from the experience).  Think about it for a moment – when your child strikes out, there is that moment that immediately follows where the child can either a) get mad, throw a bat, and find himself to be worthless, or b) take a deep breath, stay positive, and stay focused on getting a hit the next time up.  The decision of whether to get frustrated or learn from the strikeout will make all the difference for the rest of the game (and possibly the season).

All athletes fail, stress out, and deal with issues around mental toughness.  We see these struggles at every level — from pee-wees, youth sports, interscholastic sports, and college and professional sports.  The key, however, is to understand that failure is a part of life, and just as important – to learn a coping skill or two to help when times get tough (like using deep breathing or having a positive cue word to think about during times of duress).

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