The Sport Information Resource Centre
The Sport Information Resource Centre

Athletes deal with many adverse situations ranging from injuries, to coping with pressure, to dealing with mental lapses that can derail their ability to concentrate on performing. Being able to bounce back from setbacks or situations that cannot be controlled builds resilient athletes. Going through adversity allows an athlete to experience a variety of emotions, making it possible for them to move forward and build characteristics which make them mentally tough. Being resilient means having an “I can” attitude.

How do athletes develop resilience?

When your athlete faces an adverse situation such as an injury, it’s vital to ensure that they understand that injury is part of sport. Just because you practice A, B and C, it does not mean that D will not occur. There are certain things which athletes simply cannot control. Focusing on what is controllable, such as rehabilitation or rest, is more important so that they can get better and be back training and competing.

As an athlete, the way in which you think about challenges and tough situations can either hinder or help with overcoming adversity. Having tools to change one’s thinking, such as cognitive restructuring can help in approaching challenges with a positive frame of mind. Being able to control negative thoughts can help reduce stress, making it possible to overcome challenges and build mental toughness.

The Advantage of Resiliency among Athletes

Resilient athletes view difficult situations as challenges and do not shy away from pressure or failure. To a resilient athlete, being in a tough position represents a chance to learn, grow and become a better athlete. These athletes enjoy being in competitive situations, since they do not view competition as a barometer of their self-worth.

Resilient athletes:

  • Have a positive outlook
  • Do not succumb to pressure, worry about, or get caught up on what others think
  • Focus their energy on what they can control
  • Do not let setbacks affect their game or lives
  • See failure as something to learn and grow from in order to develop

A resilient athlete only deals with situations that they can control. Being in control allows athletes to have an impact in a race or on a game, thus engendering confidence and eliminating feelings of powerlessness or negativity due to having a bad start or making a tactical mistake. Resilient athletes also do not see bad outcomes as permanent. In other words, these athletes are always optimistic that the next opportunity will be better and are encouraged by the knowledge that there is always a second half.

References from the SIRC Collection:

1. Belem I, Malheiros Caruzzo N, Andrade do Nascimento Junior J, Lopes Vieira J, Fiorese Vieira L. Impact of coping strategies on resilience of elite beach volleyball athletes. / Impacto das estratégias de coping na resiliência de atletas de vôlei de praia de alto rendimento. Brazilian Journal Of Kineanthropometry & Human Performance. June 2014;16(4):447-455.

2. Hanley C. Stress-Management interventions for female athletes: Relaxation and cognitive restructuring. International Journal Of Sport Psychology. April 2004;35(2):109-118.

3. Palmer S. Resilience Enhancing Imagery: A cognitive behavioural technique which includes Resilience Undermining Thinking and Resilience Enhancing Thinking. Coaching Psychologist [serial online]. June 2013;9(1):48-50.

4. Sarkar M, Fletcher D. How Should We Measure Psychological Resilience in Sport Performers?. Measurement In Physical Education & Exercise Science. October 2013;17(4):264-280.

5. Sarkar M, Fletcher D. Psychological resilience in sport performers: a review of stressors and protective factors. Journal Of Sports Sciences. August 20, 2014;32(15):1419-1434.

6. Xing C, Sun J. The role of psychological resilience and positive affect in risky decision-making. International Journal Of Psychology. October 2013;48(5):935-943.