Keeping a positive mental attitude is a crucial part of being an athlete. Talent aside, a key strength that any sports person needs in their athletic training programme is; the ability to deal with winning and losing, pressure in a competitive environment, and coming back from injury.
In short; you’re going to need to build resilience.
Unlike many other industries, sport demands constant performance tweaks, lots of head-to-head competitions and the ability to pick yourself up and learn from your mistakes – regularly.
Mo Farah, the most successful British track athlete in modern Olympic Games history, who has overcome many feats on his journey to success, believes it comes down to a positive attitude. In an interview, he expressed that having confidence “feels like a weapon” and that whenever he feels positive he knows he has trained well.
So, how can athletes harness the power of learning from their mistakes? Sport Psychology Consultant, Iain Gair, believes it comes down to these nine key areas:
After a match, following athletic training, post-competition, there’s a period of reflection that all athletes go through. For some this involves watching performances back, for others it means rest and recuperation. As an athlete, it’s hard not to be critical of our performance, regardless of the outcome – it’s the nature of the beast.
But this is an important time to reflect back on our performance and to think about what went well, and not so well. Acknowledging both the positives and negatives and using it as a learning curve gives us a well-rounded view – one that any sports coach would encourage.
How many times have you watched sport on TV and come to a conclusion, only to have it challenged by the commentator’s different perspective!? It’s easy to have the blinkers on, which is why it’s useful to get some perspective.
If your natural default it so be self-critical, think about what your best friend, or your competitor, or even a BBC Sport commentator might say to you. It’s probably less harsh than your own view.
In sports psychology, we learn that how we react in certain situations is an identifier as to what to expect in the future. In other words, certain behaviours are often repeated; so knowing how to spot the cues and knowing what to expect when this happens again will equip you with coping with the situation better in the future.
Sport is full of highs and lows, knowing that these make you stronger, better and more prepared, should be a takeout. Mistakes are painful to deal with, but they should teach us never to give up. As the legendary baseball player Babe Ruth, once said: “It’s hard to beat a person who never gives up.”
If you look at the science behind it; the more you hone your skills, the better you will be. Social commentator Malcolm Gladwell once wrote about this, citing that successful people have given 10,000 hours to their profession. If this teaches us anything, it’s that persistence pays off!
In athletic training programmes up and down the country, sports coaches are putting strategic plans together for their athletes. Why? Because planning is key to success.
As such, learning from our mistakes helps us improve for the next occasion, something that should be incorporated into your revised training programme. A bit like fine-tuning an engine, constant tweaks and enhancements are needed.
Among the range of emotions you might feel after a knock-back, is anger – maybe even resentment or frustration. Work with your sports coach to overcome these feelings and channel them in to positive actions. As tempting as it may be to blame; the conditions, the weather, the crowd, your kit, the injury you’ve been battling, the jetlag you have – it still comes down to your own performance.
Admitting you could have done better, or you weren’t up to it, shows a great amount of courage and garners huge respect.
But also, taking responsibility and ownership for your actions, is a healthy way to move forward. It enables you to accept that you have the power to change your actions in the future, and that you can and will do better.
Some call it teamwork, others call it sportsmanship. In any case, there is great comfort that can be taken from our peers, in success and in failure.
Mistakes are important in helping us learn the value of support and teamwork. Whether you train as part of a camp or group, or as an individual, the support of others going through the same experience will help you. Least of all, it will offer a different perspective and some guidance as to how to tackle the same situation in the future.
The ability to problem solve is one of the greatest gifts an individual can have. It makes us versatile and able to tackle any situation, knowing that there are hurdles to face, but they can be overcome.
We learn how to problem solve through our mistakes. It drives us to find different solutions, urges us to try new ways, makes us consider an alternative approach. Without failure, without mistakes, without knock-backs, we never learn how to overcome obstacles. For all its misery, mistake-making in daily sport is important for our own future triumphs!
Even at the top of your game, one is always learning and improving. It’s why records continue to be broken, new feats achieved and fears conquered. A vital part of being an athlete is acknowledging and appreciating the value of this gift. We are all on the same journey, but learning at our own pace. Being grateful for the knowledge we are given through our mistakes, helps us appreciate the present – and the future.
Keen to unlock your potential as an individual or business?