A fight doesn’t start until somebody gets hit…
I was recently thinking about the quote above and how it applies to athletic success. In my thinking I applied the quote to how athletes really aren’t “tested” until they face things like pressure, fear, stress, adversity, and losing. The reality is that most athletes play well when they are happy, positive, and relaxed — but how they respond to adversity is the difference between good and great. The degree of mental toughness (or lack thereof) will ultimately determine whether an athlete is truly special, or simply a person with great athletic potential (AHPS education).
According to sport psychology research findings, athletes who are resilient, or able to bounce back quickly from adversity, often reach their full athletic potential far more quickly than athletes who constantly struggle with stress and failure. Since losing is an inevitable part of life, it’s important to learn positive and effective means to cope with losing so that you can more quickly “bounce back” and learn from the experience.
Interestingly, becoming a resilient (or mentally tough) athlete is something every athlete can learn, as you don’t need to have special DNA genetics in order to improve your mental toughness. In other words, it’s your choice as to what to do the next time you drop a ball, strike out, or miss an open shot. Do you view these types of negative events as threats to your athletic development, or challenges to make yourself better the next time the situation happens? I think you already know what great athletes do.
Think about it for a moment – every athlete will fail, become frustrated, and eventually lose – that’s a fact. So the question is not whether you will come up short in sports, but instead when. It’s for that reason that you should prioritize developing your resiliency if you truly want to take your game to the next level.
There’s an old saying in life that I have always loved: It’s not how many times you get knocked down, but instead how many times you get up. Unfortunately, feeling sorry for yourself, throwing tantrums, or taking your aggression out on others (like a referee) won’t help – but learning from those experiences will. It is for this reason that every athlete needs to learn what I call a “bounce back” technique that will help in those moments of failure and frustration.
Developing a “Bounce-Back”
A bounce-back technique is simply something you do in the heat of a game that allows you to quickly turn things around in your mind. For example, if you play a sport outdoors on natural grass, you might bend over and pinch a few blades of grass and throw them into the wind after a bad play as symbolism for “letting the last play go.” Whatever you choose to develop as a bounce-back technique is up to you, but it should be relatively short, non-attention getting, and most importantly linked up in your mind to let the last bad play go!
In psychology the technique of planning to respond to negativity is called stress inoculation, and can be thought of in the same way as getting a flu shot. In simpler terms, by thinking about how you will do when future failure occurs you will actually be preparing yourself to respond in a constructive way when you eventually come up short. This does not mean that you should think constantly about future failure, but it does mean that you should be ready for bad days and learn how to quickly “bounce back” if you really want to one day become a champion.
Stop feeling sorry for yourself when things don’t go your way and instead throw down a challenge to learn from your mistakes- if you do I have no doubt you will one day reach your full athletic potential!
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