The field of sport psychology offers many tools athletes can use to enhance their athletic performance, including imagery and biofeedback, though the ultimate prize in mental toughness training is developing a foundation mindset prepared to successfully respond to stress, frustration, adversity, and failure. For example, an athlete might develop a great pre-game routine that includes deep breathing to control arousal, but what happens when he receives bad news — like losing a starting position? Or worse yet, how does the athlete respond to being cut from a team? It is in these moments how the athlete copes with tough situations that makes all the difference in the world.
It’s not how many times you fall, but how many times you get back up…
Drilling deeper here, many of the athletes I see at my practice do, in fact, have a greater need for developing a strong, resilient mindset more than any other sport psychology skill. For example, when a kid gets cut from a team, it can be one of the more devastating events to occur during childhood. Being told that you aren’t good enough to be on the team is an emotionally painful event for most kids, impacting athletic dreams, social friendships, and sometimes even expectations of parents. In the moment of receiving the bad news, a choice is made almost immediately:
Receive the news of being cut as a validation of inadequacy, or use the event to build upon and become stronger for the next sports tryout.
Kids who pursue elite-level athletics (i.e. travel teams) almost always run the risk of losing a starting position and/or playing time, or being cut altogether. Consequently, it is vitally important for parents to help their children deal with these kinds of real life experiences so that they can grow in healthy ways rather than sink into a unhealthy depression. So what do you do when you receive tough news in life?
- First, once the emotions subside, try and learn from the experience. In fact, I liken the experience to a chapter in a book — close the old one, but do so only after taking good notes!
- Realize that everyone deals with frustration and failure, and that the true stars are the ones who accept tough days and move on from them.
- Try not to immediately jump to “politics” for being the reason your child lost his position (or was cut from the team). While it is true that sometimes this occurs, in most cases the decision was based on the best information the coach had to go on prior to making the decision.
- Again, and I can’t emphasize this enough — be realistic that failure is a part of life, but be determined to learn from the experience! By having this philosophical foundation you won’t need any tricks or gimmicks to use to help cope with life’s stressors, and you will inevitably learn how to “build a better mouse trap” the next time out.
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