Arianna Huffington once said that failure is merely a stepping stone to success. Thomas Edison found 10,000 ways to not make a light-bulb. In no small part, it’s why every athlete from Michael Jordan to Tom Daley have bounced back from setbacks. Yet, learning from failure is no mean feat. It requires guts, determination and a steely composure to bounce back from.
It is also an important part of being an athlete and takes a truly special, determined and tough-minded individual to return back to the sport that once crushed them. Yet it is often the only way we can learn, evolve and go on to great success.
Unfortunately for many high-profile athletes, failure often comes on the greatest stage of all – in public. Yet, as the saying goes, what doesn’t kill us makes us stronger, and as these top ten tips illustrate, there’s a great strength that we might gain in times of adversity.
As mentors and motivators, it falls to the sports coach to dig deep in challenging times, being able to remind us that you too can bounce back from failure – here’s how:
It’s an opportunity to learn
The role of the sports coach is to ensure their athlete performs to their best ability. Nothing more can be asked of them. It goes way beyond winning. It’s the coach’s responsibility to help them unlock their potential.
As such, competitions should be looked at as an opportunity to learn – whatever the outcome. Each time an athlete puts themselves on a stage, it should be reminded that they will take something lasting from the experience and continuously evolve.
Don’t think the worst
It is often said that ‘our minds let us down way before our body ever does’. This is why imagery skills and ‘positive mental attitude’ approaches are important as part of a training and competition strategy.
While things can go wrong, it’s about how we frame it in our mind. A sports coach will teach us that it’s not about dwelling on the worst, but instead examining what went wrong and then try to solve it. This way the athlete can take learnings for the next time they face the same situation, and bounce forward more readily.
Build resilience – don’t give up
Never give up – these are the immortal three words that any successful athlete will tell you. After all, we are all failures until we have succeeded, so persist we must!
This determination is what separates the professionals from the wannabees, those with the most dedicated and passionate of beliefs. This can come in many form; from learning to gracefully lose a competition, to bouncing back from injury.
When choosing to work with a coach, an athlete can help develop positive thinking and resilience building, in order to help overcome challenges in competing. Looking at the struggles that many other athletes faced on their journey is just one way we can continue to motivate talent.
In life, training and competitive situations, we learn the power of a positive thinking. It involves self-affirmations, focusing on goals and strategy and reflecting on past successes as an indicator for future achievements.
Indeed, research has shown that: “The ability to respond positively to setbacks, obstacles, and failures is essential for any successful athlete.”
Imagery is an important element of this, and is an area we can gain support from external coaching. Your coach may encourage you to mentally rehearse the steps you need to succeed. Find a coach that supports this and you are already half way to reaching your dreams.
Friends and family
Positive thinking doesn’t finish at the end of a session, it’s something that extends into every part of our being. That’s why it’s important for athletes to communicate and share their thoughts, feelings, aspirations and hopes with their friends and family. This is also beneficial in gaining a different perspective. They are, after all, the ones clapping from the side-lines and your biggest cheerleaders.
Growth and development
How else can we grow if not for learning? Unfortunately, that does mean that there’s going to be setbacks along the way. Learning from failure, is often the best way to improve, because we’re unlikely to repeat our mistakes again.
Find ways to encourage your team to embrace opportunities for growth and development in their every day schedule.
Learn to reflect
In sport, we adopt techniques such as reviews and debriefs as an opportunity to reflect with our coach and teammates. This is a helpful way to learn from failure, by forcing us to acknowledge what works, what went wrong and how we might do things differently next time.
It also requires a fine balance of offsetting the good with the bad, and being truthful with ourselves about how we can improve for the next performance.
Post competition debriefs may be a useful tool in this process.
Don’t dwell on the bad
It’s easy to be critical in hindsight. While it’s important to address and acknowledge shortcomings, it is not valuable to dwell on them. Look to bounce forward with strategies that have worked in other situations.
There comes a point where we must learn to forgive ourselves and move on. Easier said than done; this is where your sports coach can use their skill to intervene and ensure that negative behaviours are addressed head-on.
It goes back to establishing what we have learnt from our shortcomings, and what measures we need to put in place to prevent them from happening again.
Dealing with negative thoughts
Similar to the above, when it comes to dealing with negative thoughts, there’s a few practices that sports coaches can put in to place. From applying coping mechanisms to positive affirmations and imagery techniques, think of the ways that you can help your talent move onwards from disappointment and use the experience as a learning opportunity.
Development over perfection
It’s all too easy to get caught up in winning and ‘being the best’. In the important role of being a mentor, the sports coach should place personal development over “perfection” every time.
This is an important distinction, because perfection a subjective point, and one that is in many ways unachievable. While striving to better yourself requires tangible goals and milestones to achieve the target.
Having an achievable strategy in place will empower your athlete to strive for the most important ambition of all – to become their best version of themselves.
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