Failure in sports is par for the course, but why is something so commonplace and, some might say, inevitable, so tough to deal with? Dealing with failure, whether on the court, field, or even the trail, requires a dual focus that involves both the body and mind. To bounce back successfully after a setback, the most resilient athletes often embrace a series of strategies that help them get their head and performance back on track. Part of striving to achieve your athletic goals comes with the knowledge that winning isn’t guaranteed, but doing all you can to set yourself up for a win is often all the edge you need to ultimately succeed. Use the following strategies to help you plan for and achieve your athletic comeback.
Acknowledge and Accept Failure
There are athletes who find failure in sport hard to cope with. Missing the mark by a long-shot or slim margin has a way of impacting one’s emotions either way. Some people struggle to accept defeat. They might stew over their performance for days or even weeks. Their failure might cause them to feel despondent or even depressed.
Acknowledging the emotional side of failure is often as important as accepting the physical aspects of the performance. Dropping the pass in the end zone that could have won the game, striking out in the last inning, or stumbling at the end of an otherwise perfect performance routine can be seriously disappointing, but in order to grow and improve, the first step has to be acceptance.
Acknowledge what happened; accept the outcome. Once an athlete is able to do this, they can evaluate what went wrong more objectively, grow from the experience, and move forward with a plan for improvement. Dealing with failure is an integral aspect of any sport; the more effectively you can cope, the quicker you can move on, set new goals, and try again to succeed.
Take Time to Recover and Refocus
Some athletes prefer to jump back in the water or leap right back onto the field after experiencing a loss or setback. When the setback feels minor, this course of action might be perfectly appropriate. However, when the failure feels more substantial, it can be helpful to take some time to recover and refocus. Accepting the loss, for example, might not happen overnight or even over a weekend.
In these cases, give yourself some space to get over what happened, so you can focus mentally and physically on new goals. This time gives your brain and body a chance to refresh. Stepping away from the court or field even for a day or two can provide the space an athlete needs to cope with the failure more objectively.
Re-Evaluate and Adjust
Part of coming back after a loss or failure is making an assessment of what happened so that you can decide how to proceed. Should you stay the course or change your training program? Should you develop new strategies or work harder on the old strategies? Making some type of adjustment is usually part of a recovery process. Evaluate what you’ve been doing and to what extent it’s working or not working.
Seeking guidance or support from coaches, mentors, or mental health professionals can help you make the adjustments you need to make in order to overcome failure and create a new plan to succeed. Coaches and mentors can help you address physical aspects of your plan and may even be able to help you embrace a positive mindset. However, if you’re struggling with your past failure or feel insecure or even depressed about what happened, you should talk to a counselor or other mental health professional to get some guidance about how to improve your coping skills and achieve a healthier frame of mind.
Set Realistic and Achievable Goals
Some athletes, rather than setting themselves up for success, set themselves up for failure by setting unachievable goals. For instance, cutting the time it takes to run a mile by two minutes might be an unreasonable goal to achieve in a few weeks’ time. However, it may be possible to achieve a 30-second or 60-second reduction in that time frame. Small goals can add up to large goals. Realistic goals also support a healthy mindset.
Consider your overall goal and try breaking it down into smaller, more achievable goals. This is a great process for making gradual improvements. Ask a trusted coach or mentor to help you create some realistic goals for the next few weeks or months that you can work on.
Build your Confidence and Motivation
Top-performing athletes know that their head has to be part of their winning strategy. Playing or performing with confidence gives athletes a competitive edge over those who feel insecure about their ability or are fearful about how they may perform.
Achieving those small goals mentioned above will help you build up your confidence level. To stay motivated, consider your own unique motivators. What makes you feel excited about training or preparing for your next athletic performance? You might vary where you train or who you train with. Some athletes enjoy spending time away from the field or track and checking out YouTube videos to research how other athletes train or maintain their own motivation. Learning is a terrific motivator in itself.
A personal trainer or coach may also find ways to help motivate you to achieve your athletic goals. Remember that it’s easier to maintain your motivation when you take care of the basics–eat nutritious meals, get enough sleep, and make sure your mental health is balanced and stable.
Embrace the Process
Don’t forget that failure is a part of the athletic process. Every athlete fails to achieve their goals at one point or another–even the best of the best. That’s why finding ways to cope with failure effectively is vitally important to the overall process. Failing isn’t pleasant, but when you can tolerate the losses with some equanimity, you’ll become more resilient to them, which is a key element of your next success.
Focus on the Present Moment
Assess what happened and learn from it. Make positive changes to your fitness or training plan so you can achieve your next set of goals. After that, try to focus on the present moment as your next athletic goal. Dwelling on a past failure can sabotage your move forward. You can’t change the past. You can learn from it and take steps to make the next game or performance a better one.
Failure isn’t just something that athletes deal with. It’s a common part of life. Everyone needs to recover from failures in order to learn, grow, and perform better or make better decisions in the future. It’s also important for athletes to remember that physicality is only one element of their performance on the field or court; it’s important to maintain a healthy mindset too. If you’re struggling to keep your head in the game the right way or just feel off mentally and unable to bounce back after a loss or failure, reach out to a mental health professional.