Overcoming Setbacks & Developing Resilience


How do you deal with failure? This article will outline the positives outcomes of learning to understand that the building blocks of success on and off the field are setbacks, mistakes and failures.  

Resilience, or “mental toughness,” is a key psychological aspect of sport. The ability to bounce back from a poor performance or a detrimental mistake is crucial to an athlete’s success.

If you have a goal that is personally meaningful to you, then your successful completion of this goal depends heavily on how well you handle failure.  

Want to become a champion?

Want to know the one biggest secret to success in and out of sports? Want to know what really separates winners from losers in every sport?

The secret to your athletic success is very simple! If you truly want to reach your athletic dreams the one thing you have to learn to do better than most everyone else is fail! Fail?

Failure is supposed to be this terrible thing that you want to avoid at all costs!! Failure is not as bad as you think!

You can’t get better as an athlete unless you’re willing to fail enough!


Because failures, mistakes and losses provide you with a valuable source of feedback. They tell you what you did wrong and what not to do next time. In this way failures highlight your weaknesses.

What’s so wonderful about that? Simple! You can’t get better, faster, stronger or more skilled in your sport without knowing your shortcomings. Remember, a chain is only as strong as its weakest link.  Every time that you fail, lose or mess up, you have an opportunity, if you’re smart enough to recognize it, to lift the level of your training.  

There are two general ways that athletes deal with setbacks and failure. The most common one is also the wrong way! That is, using failure as evidence that you’re inadequate, weak, “no good”, etc. Athletes who do this use their failures to emotionally beat themselves up. This is the athlete who throws his equipment in disgust after the game or the tennis player who loses a match and says to himself, “You idiot! You suck! You have no game! My grandmother could’ve beaten you today.” When you use your mistakes and losses in this way you will not help your training. This kind of self-abuse only serves to kill your confidence, undercut your motivation and interfere with your performance.

The second way of dealing with failure is the one used by champions.  To them, failure is nothing more than what you have to do to get there. Failure and losses provide the answers to the success puzzle. They tell you exactly what you did wrong and therefore what you need to work on to improve.  

In this way, mistakes and failure supply you with that all-important feedback to take you to the next level.

To master anything new, you must start out at the bottom, as a beginner. Beginners can only learn by making mistakes and figuring out through these mistakes what not to do the next time in order to get it right. If you give yourself too much of a hard time when you fail, then you’ll be more reluctant to take the risks necessary to get you to your goals. Remember Nike’s old ad with Michael Jordan talking about all his failures, all the last second shots with the game on the line that he missed, the times he cost his team the game, the time he was cut from his high school basketball squad. The commercial ends with MJ saying, “And it’s because of all these setbacks and failures that I’m so successful today.”

Winners hate failing with a passion. However, they are smart enough to know that failing is an important part of the process. It’s what you have to do to get to success.

So the real question is: how can an athlete become resilient?

The most apparent method is not an easy one. An athlete must face and conquer adversity in order to successful cope with it in the future. The saying “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” applies perfectly to an athlete coming off a bad performance. Past mastery experiences boost self-confidence, which leads to great performance.

An effective tool an athlete can use in a practice or game setting is a trigger. A trigger word or action can help an athlete refocus and clear his or her mind quickly.

A conscious effort must be made by the athlete to push all negative thoughts and feelings associated with the mistake out of their mind. While difficult at first, over time the trigger action will elicit an immediate psychological response.

The ability to let go of mistakes is vital to a successful performance. The better an athlete can do this, the better equipped they are to cope with trying situations in sport. Elite athletes possess a mental toughness that allows them to thrive off of failure and relish success.

One final key point about failing and performance. If you are worried about losing or messing up, then chances are good that you will perform badly. You will always do your best when you have absolutely nothing to lose. Athletes always choke when they get too focused on the outcome. Forget failing. It’s not the end of the world! Stop tying your ego up with the outcome of your game, match or race. Failure is not your enemy!

Instead, failure is a very important training partner! Losing is nothing more than feedback. Open your eyes and ears and treat your setbacks this way. Learn from them! Don’t dwell on them! Then forget them!

Remember…Failure is feedback and feedback is the breakfast of champions!

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