Experiencing a season ending injury.
Unexpectedly being demoted from starting lineup.
Learning that a failing grade has nullified athletic eligibility.
The examples above are scenarios student athletes commonly face, leaving them with extremely difficult and challenging decisions. Do you succumb to the bad news, adopt a defeatist attitude, and engage in destructive behaviors? Or do you accept the circumstances, roll up your sleeves, and throw down a personal challenge to overcome the adversity? Attitude, unlike your eye color or height, is a choice, and when we choose to turn what appear to be life threats into healthier life challenges, only then can we cull and direct our energy toward healthy problem-solving.
After emotions settle, what do you choose?
When we first experience bad news, it makes sense to simply get the emotions out. Sadness, anger, fear, and confusion are common examples of emotions we experience when dealing with adversity, and it’s not only OK to feel these things — but actually healthy to let these feelings flow. In fact, psychologists call this catharsis, the process of releasing, and thereby providing relief from, strong emotions. In lay-terms, this is the experience of “getting things off your chest,” and we generally feel better after catharsis. But while getting feelings out immediately following adversity is fine, but what do you do after that?
Sadly, some student athletes never get past the immediate emotions that follow an injury, loss of starting role, or failing grade that left them ineligible. In these examples, as you might imagine, recovering from the adversity becomes prolonged — and in some cases the situation is never improved upon. So what should you do following the initial emotional experience?
A more successful approach…
Yes, the easy way to go when adversity hits is to feel sorry for yourself, and blame others for your misfortune. This is easy as it requires little energy, and doesn’t include any true soul-searching to change future thinking and behaviors in hopes of a better future result. Instead, pointing outward and shifting responsibility to other people and things provides temporary comfort — but no real, measurable human growth. A better, healthier response to dealing with adversity might include the following:
- Let emotions exhaust. As was mentioned earlier, take a day or two to work through the emotions but don’t stay there! After experiencing catharsis, there really is no healthy reason to camp out with emotions like anger and resentment when your energy can be re-directed toward healthier thoughts and behaviors.
- Examine the situation rationally. Yes, you may have been given a tough break, but so has everyone else at various points in life. You are not unique in that bad fortune only follows you, nor are you a victim. What you are, in fact, is human! Injuries can be overcome, regaining a starting position is possible, and improving poor grades at school can happen in the future with a good attitude and better study skills.
- Create challenges from your circumstances. Rather than succumb to sadness and feeling sorry for yourself, why not throw down a challenge? Injured athletes can become determined to work hard in physical therapy, demoted athletes can train harder to regain their old spot, and athletes with poor grades can seek outside academic assistance to learn new study skills.
- Set goals, measure progress, and use positive reinforcement. As you work through personal challenges, set specific, measurable, controllable goals and track your progress daily. Not only will you “see” your improvement right before your own eyes, but your confidence for future success will improve as well.
How you identify and respond to life setbacks will make all the difference when it comes to the outcomes you experience. Embrace the role of victim, and mediocre behaviors will follow. Choose to take your adversity on as a life challenge, and an entirely different (and healthy) mindset will follow, triggering positive problem-solving behaviors. What choice will you make?