Posted in Performance Experts

How to Embrace Failure in Sports

Learn from your mistakes. One of life’s greatest sayings and one of its truest. Look at failure, not as disappointment, but as an opportunity. Failure can uniquely teach us to be resilient, to be objectively optimistic, and to become more appreciative of our effort and our future success. You know who has probably heard learn from your mistakes more than anyone else? Athletes. From youth sports to pro leagues, athletes are constantly challenged to adapt and respond well to setbacks and failure. In fact, the narrative for many athletes features failure as the inflection point that ultimately leads to their initial success and their ongoing accomplishments.

Like all good things, the process of learning how to respond adaptively to failure requires work. From a mental standpoint, to persevere in the face of failure depends largely on one’s mental toughness and their ability to demonstrate a growth mindset. Without this mental foundation, you will look at failure as defeat, you might lose interest in the game you love, and you will most certainly experience a loss of confidence. So how to start the work of building a foundation of mental toughness? It’s time to put in the mental reps.

The first rep is to work on becoming more aware of how you emotionally react to failure and the uncontrollable. Have you noticed that you partake in negative self-talk when the game plan does not go as expected? (e.g. “I give up,” “I suck,” “I ruined this game for my team”). What are you telling yourself that may be unrealistic? (e.g. “I must play at my best every single game,” “I can’t miss this shot,” “I need to control the outcome of the game”). How are these thoughts and feelings making you feel? (e.g. angry, frustrated, hopeless, or uncontrollable). It takes practice to learn mental skills and techniques to refocus and override negative self-talk and disparaging emotions. However, the responses we tell ourselves around unwanted or unpredictable outcomes should be driven by realistic and growth-minded terminology.
Having a more positive repertoire of responses to negative outcomes will help shape your ability to metabolize failure as a growth and learning opportunity. These positive responses towards individual setbacks will help you feel better about yourself and your effort. If you are struggling to find personal encouraging beliefs about yourself regarding your failure, you can create your own mantra. When you say your mantra to yourself amidst the swirling negative thoughts, you won’t get discouraged because the meaning of your mantra is stronger than the fleeting negative thought. The truth behind the meaning and words of your mantra will create a positive and motivating inner monologue. This inner dialogue takes the form of a reassuring self-statement that will positively impact performance, self-confidence, and overall success.

Like Michael Jordan or Michael Phelps, most successful people have tried and failed many times before they achieved real success. At the end of the day, your response and reaction to failures, setbacks, and feelings of defeat are actually mental reps towards reaching your defined success. These lessons of failure teach us more about ourselves than any trophy can and will always be the reason that we propel forward and strive to be our best.