We want to expect everything to be going smoothly. Athletes never get sick or injured, the plan works wonderfully, and the goal just appears as a coincidence.
I assume you know that this would not be real life. It also would be kind of boring and not as appreciative if there weren´t some unknowns or maybe even a setback. The emotions of achieving a win or other goal wouldn´t be the same if everything were clear from the beginning.
I had plenty of setbacks. How an athlete tackles those is a big part of success.
So the most important thought we can implement in young athletes after a setback is: “WHAT`S NEXT!”
Yes, it´s tough to get sick, but this we can not change anymore it has already happened. What the athlete still has in their hand is how well the recovery will go and how to catch up and bounce back after that. Because we don´t want them to lose connection to their Ambitious Goals.
Setbacks are Stepping Stones
Since setbacks are part of everything we learn, it is about the determination to overcome them. We hear about athletes who had major injuries, missed a whole season, and came back to continue at the level they got stopped. Of course, this takes a lot of motivation, determination, desire, willpower, and so on, and I feel very fortunate I never had to experience such a huge cut in my career. Not as severe once take it too. It´s kind of a challenge to test athletes if they really want it. And this check-in comes around every once in a while. It is nothing athletes need to be scared about!
The Power of Perspective
When being frustrated for too long, it would hold the potential for growth and learning. Of course, it´s frustrating, and everyone would understand the frustrated athlete, but again, it doesn´t help. We don´t ask for all the stumble or obstacles, but when they appear, we can see them as opportunities. By shifting our perspective, we can turn setbacks into stepping stones toward success.
When I was 17, I had a bike accident, crashing with a car. I know sounds horrible, and it definitely set me back. Luckily I only got some scratches on my face and overstretched my inner knee ligament on one of my legs. What did I do? I started Double Poling on roller skis much more than every other 17-year-old. Since then, I really mastered double poling, which is very important for skate skiing. I also did all the other stuff I could do.
I have another example. I have seen two athletes, both had leg injuries. One was sitting in a chair pulling on a double pole machine for 2h 5 days a week, while the other one didn´t even make it for one hour. The one who took on the mostly mental challenge continued a great career, while the other one never came back.
Having those setbacks also makes athletes appreciate being able to do hard training sessions.
Sport is a lot about mental resilience. We hear it all of the time, and there is a whole profession for the mental aspect for athletes. I find it great to have guidance. When it comes to setbacks, I also believe that experience has a huge value, and being guided while having this experience might make it even more valuable. When experiencing a setback and experiencing how to get out of it, is like strengthening a muscle. Like strengthening muscles, we also can strengthen resilience.
Young kids usually don´t dwell on setbacks. How often does a baby try just to get a spoon in their mouth? At some point, we seem to lose a bit of the resilience and happiness to try things over and over again – and have fun doing so. This happens when pressure appears. Either from other kids, parents, coaches, friends, family members or not to forget the athletes themselves. So let´s at first make sure the young athletes experience the good side of a setback before they have to start dealing with some sort of pressure.
I am not saying there is only a good side to a setback, but this good side of it likes to be overlooked. Then the event - the injury or illness - can be used as an excuse. Let me talk about that.
Goal Setting and Adaptation
What´s the difference between a circumstance and an excuse? When it still seems to be possible to reach the desired goal for a certain competition, athletes want to stick with the goal – fully! When it´s not at all possible, it might be okay to adjust. Depending on how much time is left to recover, I personally would wait until the last minute with the adjustment.
When an athlete adjusts a goal right away, even when it is still far out, the chances are that the plan gets adjusted to the new, lower goal, just to find out the day of the event that it was not necessary to play small. But now the training was not at a level to reach the original goal. So the athlete totally achieved the new goal, almost made it to the original goal, and is expected to be happy with that. I would not have been happy! The injury was the excuse to play small.
When keeping the original goal, still being smart with recovery and training, and aiming for the original goal, what can happen? Yes, the athlete can miss the goal, but now they don´t use it as an excuse anymore for playing small. Now it's a circumstance.
When the goal changes, the attention, focus, effort, everything changes. So what's harder to miss a goal an athlete was really thriving and working for, or an early adjustment that took out some of the excitement? Athletes miss goals at least half of the time. It´s okay, as long they did everything to keep the chance to reach it. Those who are playing small learn how to play small. This has a much more negative impact on a future athletic career!!! Yes, I had to use all those exclamation marks. 🙂We don´t want young athletes to learn how to play small when they aim to get to the top. We want them to build up the proactive mindset.
If an athlete around you struggles with something at the moment, please let them know that it is the test of how much they really want that – and then support them to emphasize the challenge. Or how I like to say: If it would be easy, everyone would do it 😉
Do you have a Dream? Keep going towards it :)
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