Dealing with Setbacks in Sports
You’re in a slump. You get an injury. You sit out the entire game. Sound familiar? The majority of athletes, regardless of their skill level or sport have experienced setbacks in many shapes and forms. Although the physical aspect of sports is grueling, the psychological aspect of the game is equally as demanding but often downplayed and overlooked by players. Many of us have heard the saying that sports are 90% mental and 10% physical. If you’re an athlete, you know that a mishap, whether it be a plateau in your performance, an injury that requires you to miss practice or a bad match, can adversely affect your performance and productivity. These setbacks often invoke feelings of frustration, despair and exasperation. Every athlete wants to be in tip-top shape and at peak performance all the time, but I hate to break it to you — it’s simply not possible. Here are some pieces of advice based on my personal experience on how to deal with setbacks and grow from them.
Let out your frustration! It’s easy to keep your feelings to yourself, but more times than not, doing so only escalates the situation and causes you to become more discouraged and dejected than before. Talk to a trusted friend or adult (eg. your coach, if you’re comfortable sharing) and express how you’re feeling and what they can do to support you. Asking for help can be intimidating, but sharing your emotions and struggles can help take a burden off your shoulders and help you to receive the support you need. For example, if you’re frustrated with your recent performance, express your concerns with your coach, who can help you get out of your slump. If you don’t advocate for yourself, no one will. Injured? If you know a teammate who suffered a similar injury, reach out to them for advice and words of encouragement.
Another favorite method of mine is to let all the anger out at practice (to clarify: in the form of your sport, not towards other people!!). Frustrated about your recent performance in a game? Slam tennis balls into the backboard after practice. Take a couple of aggressive slapshots. Imagine balling up all the negative energy and flinging/smacking/kicking it all away. I like to use this tactic as a temporary relief from my problems.
If you’re dealing with an injury, I understand how incredibly disappointing it can be to have to miss out on practice and matches. I try to always look at the bigger picture and long-term scenarios in regards to recovery. Although the recovery process is long and difficult, I always promise myself to dedicate 100% into my recovery so that I can return to playing in better shape than I started. Also, find ways to stay involved with your team; attend matches and practices, schedule FaceTimes with your team, study plays/strategies and videos, etc.
Understand what is in your control and out of your control. Your attitude, mindset, effort, extra practice and tenacity are all factors that are in your control. You make the decisions to show up to practice every day and give it your all. Recognize factors that are out of your control: penalty calls, COVID-related cancellations, your playing time, etc. Although you can have some jurisdiction over the outcomes of these factors, the ultimate outcomes are things you cannot control. Focus on what you can control and not on what you can’t control. Easier said than done, but it is a strength that is built up over time.
Feel free to reach out to me (firstname.lastname@example.org) whenever you need to talk to someone about sports-related setbacks! Been there, done that (too many times). I’d be more than willing to give some advice or just listen.