The importance of Resilience in Sport

Rafael_Nadal_(19047517620)

One of the 8 mental skills I identified in the WOMP (Wheel of Mental Performance) is Resilience and is usually known as the capacity to bounce back after a setback, whether it is after a loss or a bad performance (going into the next game or next competition) or during a game after a mistake or bad play, or when being led by the other team.

A more general definition I learned from the Heartmath institute is that Resilience is the capacity to prepare for, recover from and adapt in the face of stress, challenge or adversity. This definition was made in relation to stress and emotions management but can be used in a more general way. It emphasizes the fact that we can:

  • Prepare for some situations in order to better RESPOND when facing them, rather than just REACT to what happens.
  • Adapt in the moment when a stressful or challenging situation arises
  • Recover from a setback and not let it impact our future performance

During games and competitions, through a season, a high school or college period, or through a whole career, there will be hard times, there will be downs, with lost games, poor performance, and injuries. Having the capacity to accept it and to move on will make the difference between those who sustain on the long run and those who quit or lose faith, determination and energy.

 Here are a few examples of a strong resilience:

  • Short term resilience: I recently gave an example of resilience during a world cup soccer game Here.

 

  • Long term Resilience: Roger Federer, Rafael Nadal and Novak Djokovic all had to deal with injuries in the past years and with the loss of confidence that often comes with it. All of them were resilient enough to continue to work and believe in themselves despite their inability to play at their best for months and even years,  not winning any Masters or Grand Slam, being eliminated early in tournaments, going down in the world ranking. And they are now back at their best level (Nadal won 2 Grand Slams in 2017 and 1 in 2018 and is world number 1, currently in semifinal at the US Open; Federer, world number 2, won 2 Grand Slams in 2017 and 1 in 2018, Djokovic’s come back is more recent and after winning Wimbledon in July, is in semi-final at the US Open)

 

  • Injury related Resilience: Ait Said, a French gymnast aiming at an Olympic gold medal, after already being unable to participate to the 2012 Olympics due to an injury, broke his leg on the first day of competition during the 2016 Olympics when landing after a jump. Can you imagine the frustration, the desperation of such a thing? It means as far as Olympics are concerned, which is the main objective in gym, that it’s 8 years lost! Well the next days, from the hospital where he had had surgery, here is what he wrote on social media: as soon as I am back on my feet, believe me, we’ll go back to training and go for the gold! (in the next Olympics in 2020). If his body is sometimes weak, his mental is unbreakable.

Here are a few things you can do to build your resilience:

  • Short term resilience (on the spot, during a game or competition)
    • Prepare for scenarios where you make a mistake, or take a slow start, or don’t feel physically well, and decide how you want to respond in this situation.
    • Find a mental trigger to let go of the mistakes you make. Some golfers might grab a handful of grass to represent the bad play and throw it away, as a symbol that it’s gone; some soccer players I coach use a word like “Refocus”.
  • Long term resilience:
    • Don’t generalize a past poor performance (the past doesn’t predict the future), remember times when you performed well, and find evidence that you can perform better in the present and in the future (more training, better preparation and readiness, etc…)
    • Look for stories about athletes you admire and what they overcame, and use them as an inspiration when you are going through tough periods.
    • Use positive self talk
  • Injury related resilience:
    • Use the time when you are injured to work on things you usually don’t have time to, like other parts of your body, or strategies, etc.
    • Use specific techniques like mental imagery to work your moves or keep your mindset positive and prepare your come back.

If you want to seriously improve your resilience or any other mental skills with specific techniques and support, contact me to learn about my different options.

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