Every athlete, irrespective of their event group or level of expertise, encounters setbacks and disappointments throughout their athletic journey. For young track and field athletes, effectively managing these challenges is essential for long-term success, personal development, and mental well-being. In this Beagles Bites post, we delve into research-backed strategies that can aid athletes in transforming disappointment into an opportunity for growth, progress, and enhanced performance.
Embracing and Acknowledging Disappointment
The first step in addressing disappointment is recognising its inevitability in sports. According to sports psychologists Jones et al. (2002), setbacks can serve as invaluable learning experiences and can contribute to developing resilience. It is vital for young athletes to accept and understand their feelings of disappointment, while also acknowledging that even the most successful athletes face challenges throughout their careers (Snyder & Lopez, 2007).
Prioritising the Journey Over Results
To bounce back from disappointment, athletes should focus on the ongoing process of skill enhancement and performance improvement, rather than solely on competition outcomes. Harwood et al. (2015) discovered that athletes who emphasise personal development and effort are more likely to recover from setbacks, as they comprehend that obstacles can be overcome through determination and dedication.
Establishing realistic and attainable goals is crucial for maintaining motivation and promoting personal growth in young athletes (Locke & Latham, 2006). Encourage them to reflect on their performance, identify areas for improvement, and set short- and long-term objectives to turn disappointment into a learning opportunity (Gould & Carson, 2008). Stay tuned for our upcoming post with Coach Mark, where we will discuss SMART goals and training in greater detail. Remember, goal-setting should always be done in collaboration with your coach!
Leveraging Social Support Networks
During times of disappointment, emotional support from family, friends, coaches, and teammates can prove to be invaluable. Research conducted by Rees et al. (2007) suggests that social support can help reduce stress, improve mental well-being, and foster a more positive outlook on sports performance. Young athletes should be encouraged to openly discuss their feelings and seek advice from their support networks. If in doubt, consult your coach and/or our Mental Welfare Officer, Jennie.
Cultivating Mental Resilience
Developing mental resilience is crucial for overcoming disappointment and achieving long-term success in sports (Crust & Clough, 2005). We provide young athletes with tools to build mental toughness, such as positive self-talk, visualisation, and relaxation techniques. These strategies can help them maintain confidence and focus, even when confronted with adversity (Gould et al., 2002). Whenever possible, extend these techniques to non-track-based activities, such as school or work, to further cultivate mental resilience.
Self-compassion is a vital component of personal development and recovery from disappointment. Neff (2003) contends that self-compassion involves treating oneself with kindness and understanding during challenging times. We encourage young athletes to practice self-compassion by acknowledging their efforts and accepting that setbacks are an integral part of growth in their athletic journey.
Learning to cope with disappointment is an essential aspect of any athlete’s experience. By embracing and acknowledging setbacks, focusing on personal growth, setting attainable goals, utilising social support networks, and developing mental resilience, young track and field athletes can transform disappointment into a powerful catalyst for future achievements and personal growth.
- Crust, L., & Clough, P. J. (2005). Relationship between mental toughness and physical endurance. Perceptual and Motor Skills, 100(1), 192-194.
- Gould, D., & Carson, S. (2008). Life skills development through sport: current status and future directions. International Review of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 1(1), 58-78.
- Gould, D., Guinan, D., Greenleaf, C., Medbery, R., & Peterson, K. (2002). Factors affecting Olympic performance: perceptions of athletes and coaches from more and less successful teams. The Sport Psychologist, 16(4), 370-394.
- Harwood, C. G., Keegan, R. J., Smith, J. M., & Raine, A. S. (2015). A systematic review of the intrapersonal correlates of motivational climate perceptions in sport and physical activity. Psychology of Sport and Exercise, 18, 9-25.
- Jones, G., Hanton, S., & Connaughton, D. (2002). What is this thing called mental toughness? An investigation of elite sport performers. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 14(3), 205-218.
- Locke, E. A., & Latham, G. P. (2006). New directions in goal-setting theory. Current Directions in Psychological Science, 15(5), 265-268.
- Neff, K. D. (2003). Self-compassion: An alternative conceptualization of a healthy attitude toward oneself. Self and Identity, 2(2), 85-101.
- Rees, T., Hardy, L., & Freeman, P. (2007). Stressors experienced by elite male swimmers during a 12-week training program. International Journal of Sport and Exercise Psychology, 5(1), 25-40.
- Snyder, C. R., & Lopez, S. J. (2007). Positive psychology: The scientific and practical explorations of human strengths. Sage Publications.