What is the biggest difference between being the best in sports, compared to falling back with the rest? Is it natural talent? Hard work? Luck? Of course, those factors cannot be dismissed, but there is one variable that I believe supersedes them all: Resiliency. Yes, the ability to work through tough times, forget about bad days, and learn and improve from mistakes are qualities of champions, and they are skills that every athlete can learn and use.
It’s not how many times you fall down, but how many times you get up…
Regardless of athletic talent, if you play competitive sports you will eventually experience stress, frustration, adversity, and failure. It is in these very moments where champions begin to separate themselves from the pack, and distinctions are made between good players and great players. In many cases success comes down to who wants it more, and this speaks to the power of human resiliency. Athletes with a high degree of mental toughness play through aches and pains, overcome bad calls made by officials, and ignore hostile fans. These athletes fall down just like the competition, but unlike the competition, they continue to get back up.
It’s easy when there’s no pressure
One of the common things I hear at my office from both athletes and sport parents is how well an athlete plays in practice, or even competition where there’s little pressure. This is basically like saying I shoot 90% of my free throws in an empty gym, or I hit the majority of my drives perfectly at the driving range. These are misleading statistics that should not necessarily be used as a gauge for talent, or indicators of how an athlete will play in actual games. In these examples the absence of a competitor and accompanying feelings of pressure are major factors that often dictate outcomes — and the exact things that prompt athletes to check their mettle and their resiliency.
The only true test of resiliency is to actually be in situations where you are forced to dig deep and examine your anxieties and insecurities. Unfortunately, that’s not typically the type of scenario that can be manufactured in an empty gym shooting free throws, or a driving range where there’s nobody to compete against.
Strengthen your resiliency
One place to start when it comes to resiliency is to use rational, realistic thinking. Specifically, this means placing great importance on resiliency, accepting that there will countless times you need to be resilient, and developing specific tips and strategies to galvanize your resiliency. The following 4 tips can help you take your game to the next level:
- Don’t be a perfectionist. When we think in absolute terms, we leave no room to appreciate those times when we experienced dramatic improvement – but still came up short. Instead, strive for excellence, and make sure to learn from your mistakes for future improvement.
- Think of resiliency as problem solving. Rather than getting upset at failure, why not instead try and figure out what to do better the next time out? When you approach situations with a problem-solving mentality, only then will you begin to see dramatic spikes in your confidence and performance.
- Understand what it takes to be the best. Study the best and you will soon learn that they are not afraid of failing, and the same should be true for you. Great athletes don’t dwell on yesterday’s bad game, but instead begin each day with a positive attitude and desire to be the best.
- Adopt an internal locus of control. Athletes who believe they have a lot of control over their performance (internal locus of control) perform better, on average, when compared to athletes who believe little of their performance is under their control (external). Set goals, follow your progress, and steer clear of excuses when things don’t go your way.
There’s an old saying “It isn’t a fight until someone gets hit,” and this might be a good way to look at the importance of resiliency. Remember, everyone plays well when there isn’t any adversity to deal with, but what happens when you fail? Do you bounce right back, or become upset and feel sorry for yourself? Or, worse yet, blame your coaches and teammates? The choice you make will determine the future success you experience, and your level of human resiliency will make the difference.