How should athletes handle adversity in sports settings?

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Answered by: Jessicaa, An Expert in the Sport Psychology Category
Adversity is a part of life. Everyone encounters difficult situations. Some even encounter tragedies. Margaret Mitchell, from Gone with the Wind, said, “Hardships make or break people.” Whether in sport or in life in general, hardships are the circumstances that define us as people and gives us a story to tell.



When faced with adversity, there are only two outcomes. Either you beat it or it beats you. Overcoming adversity does two things for athletes. It helps them grow as an athlete AND as a person. Teams and individuals both have to learn to be resilient. As an individual athlete, you have to overcome things such as injuries or “choking”. As a team you may have to overcome a losing streak or slump. Resilience is how efficiently you recover from difficult circumstances or tragedies.

One does not only face adversity once in life. Adversity comes and goes as does the obstacles that you face. It is said that the quickest path to get somewhere is in a straight line. This is not the case with success however. In order to be successful, there will be many instances where you take “ 8 steps forward, then nine steps back”. Failures happen. The most important part is that you keep going.



Whether dealing with adversity in your personal life or adversity in sports, you can’t control what happens in life, but you can control how you deal with it. Anyone can remain positive when everything is going fine, but adversity is what tests your true capabilities. Winston Churchill once said, “ If you’re going through hell, keep going.” The ability to “go through hell” and keep going is what’s differentiates those who succeed and those who plateau. Tiger Woods is a prime example. Woods was known for being a good player, but was recognized as an excellent player when he won the 2008 U.S. Open while dealing with a major injury. How you operate during “crunch” time is the truest test of your capabilities and resilience.

There are ways you shouldn’t deal with adversity. Don’t play the “blame” game. Own your mistakes. You can’t blame the referee for making the bad call. You can’t blame the weather, crowd, or your teammates for things gone wrong. Although there are circumstances outside of your control in both life and a game situation, there is one element you can control- yourself. Despite everything going wrong, you can choose to develop a game plan to overcome the obstacles or accept defeat. Even defeat is not a complete failure. It is important to understand the concept of “yin and yang”. Good and bad exist simultaneously. In every situation, there is good and bad news. It is up to you which side you focus on. With every loss, you must remember that there are lessons learned that can be taken from it. You learn from your mistakes, make adjustments and move on.

Don’t lose your temper. By losing your temper, you are showing the crowd, the opponent, and everybody else that you know you blew it. You are also showing them that you are out of control. Losing your temper does nothing but distract you at the task at hand and leave you unprepared for the next step or play. For example, you are at bat for the third time and you strike out for the third time. You go into the dugout and throw the bat against the fence. You’re adrenaline is pumping and you are dwelling on your mistake. However, this is not what you want to be doing. What you want to be doing is calming down so you are at ease for the next opportunity.

Sometimes the anticipation is too much to bear. There’s a common phrase, “wanting something so bad it hurts”. Sometimes in a competitive sports setting, the athlete wants something so bad that it hinders their performance. They spend too much time, thinking about it and envisioning the outcome, then what to do to actually achieve the desired outcome. However, this IS a step in the right direction. When trying to achieve any goal, you SHOULD envision it- but momentarily. You picture it, then let the image go so you can complete the goal.

In life and on the field, you should love the battle. Much can be learned from adversity in sports settings.Eventually, everyone faces some level of adversity in an department of life (work, school, sport, etc.). Instead of dwelling on the “why me?”’s and the “what now?’’s, you should embrace the battle. It’s the battles that are going to give the strength and the confidence that will define you as a person and a player.

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