I.G. 2018

As the saying goes ‘we learn from our mistakes’. Embracing failure is the reason why parents let their children fall down and get back up when they’re learning how to walk. It’s the reason why students re-sit exams, and it’s the reason why sports athletes have comebacks after major defeats.

So important is failure to your eventual success, that many see it as a gift. It’s an opportunity to improve ourselves, learn from our mistakes and be the very best we can be. It teaches us resilience and grace and makes us more appreciative of our success.

Dealing with emotions

But dealing with failure is not always easy. Especially after the months and years of hard work, early starts and sports coaching that precede it.

Nonetheless, every athlete who will rise to the top, has done so with numerous challenges and feats along the way.

“If you’ve never failed, you’ve never tried anything new.”

Albert Einstein

With that in mind, here’s some valuable tips for embracing failure in sport.

Develop positive responses to failure

While no-one likes to lose, it’s important to remember that failing is an essential part of the journey. Using failure as an opportunity to learn is a healthy way to deal with emotionsthat come from defeat.

From Anthony Joshua to Serena Williams, every successful athlete has faced and overcome hurdles. In doing so has returned an improved athlete from it. Look at your sporting heroes, and trace their journey back for inspiration.

Analyse your performance

Learning to embrace failure extends way beyond dealing with emotions; it’s about using the experience to hone your talent.

Elite athletes of all sports learn to improve their game through analysing their performance; good and bad. 

As one of the greatest executive coaches of all time, Sir Alex Ferguson made his team analyse and explain their poor performance. This was said to help weed out those with a negative mindset, versus those who had a positive mindset and were able to be accountable for their performance, and thus willingness to improve. 

Recognise the problem that the failure exposed

Reflection is an important part of post-competition analysis. It allows us to understand where we went wrong and the different actions we can take in the future to avoid making the same mistakes.

Dealing with failure means to be open to our vulnerabilities and accepting that we could have delivered our performance differently. Simply put, failure can exposure our shortcomings and highlight areas that we need to work on more.

Teach yourself to problem solve effectively

Learning to problem solve is one of the positive outcomes when athletes overcome challenge. It teaches us new and different ways of tackling a subject, to change the outcome the next time we approach in.

In a research study about ‘controlling emotions’ the sports psychology report explains that problem solving “involves not only generating a number of ways of dealing with a situation but of being aware of the consequences of a particular action that will help facilitate the correct choice of response.”

Think about what you can learn from failure

We all know that perseverance is a trait closely linked to successful athletes. But in its rawest form, this means the ability to carry on, even after many knock backs. Those who have the resilience to do so, often can because they understand that it can take defeat to enjoy the fruits of labour

Don’t be afraid to fail

In the world of athletic performance training it takes a brave athlete to take a risk, or leap of faith. Being able to push yourself and face fear head on, is one of the greatest ways we can achieve success, and pioneer in sport.

A psychology publication, highlights: “You may think that taking risks is, well, risky for your sport. But the reality is that not taking risks is far more risky because performing safe will not get you where you want to go.”

Challenge negative thoughts

After a defeat, it’s understandable to have negative thoughts. But, such is the power of a positive mindset that it’s the way we interpret these thoughts that is most important. 

Experts believe that negative thoughts should be acknowledged and dealt with. One way of gaining a new perspective by thinking how you might respond if a friend or competitor thought about themselves in that way. 

A sports coach might tell you to focus on strengths, or learning to be less self-critical and to show more self-love.

See problems as opportunities

It goes back to our first point, which is seeing problems as opportunities. Many athletes will agree that we grow from some of our hardest experiences on the pitch. It enables us to up our game and recognise our weaknesses, which ultimately we can improve on.

Legendary tennis player Stan Smith was initially rejected as a ball boy in the Davis Cup as he was considered too uncoordinated and clumsy. He learnt from this and went on to win Wimbledon, the US Open and no less than eight David Cups!

Reflect on your performance

As a final lesson in embracing failure, reflection is an important tool. The ability to look back at your performance with honesty, to understand what went well and what didn’t, and allow yourself to see with clarity the strengths and areas for improvement. Even the greatest athlete in the world has room for improvement. Adopting the growth mindset that we are all just ‘work in progress’ allows us to appreciate the journey we’re all on. 

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