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Coaching Through Adversity

It happens in all sports at every level--adversity can strike, leaving your athletes in a state of stress, anxiety, and even fear. In situations like this, the role coaches play is critical. Student-athletes must be taught the proper coping mechanisms when dealing with challenging circumstances, and that includes how to become resilient in the face of a setback.

Dr. Patrick Cohn, a sports psychologist and the president and founder of Peak Performance Sports, suggests a number of ways that coaches can guide their athletes through these tough times and develop the mental strength it requires to become a resilient individual. In an article on Peak Sports, Cohn explains that since adversity is a common occurrence everywhere in sports, you can start the process by letting your athlete know that he or she is “not alone.”

“Golfers will miss crucial putts, tennis players will get unfavorable calls. Runners will face challenges in training,” says Cohn. “Athletes face adversity all the time.”

Continue by encouraging your players to pay closer attention to the behavior of professional and collegiate athletes during media interviews. They were once younger athletes with few coping skills in dealing with the challenges of adversity, and it is evident that their resiliency has grown stronger as their careers progress. Whether their team just won or lost, everyone on your roster can pick up tips about responding to adversity by just listening to their responses.

“Every athlete will talk about two things: adversity and resiliency. For example, you will hear comments such as, ‘All season long, we had to battle injuries but we kept fighting,’ Cohn says.

In the article, Cohn lists other phrases that can teach younger athletes the proper mindset in handling adverse questions from media members and fans on social media:

  • “All season long, we had to battle injuries but we kept fighting.”
  • “I had some bad breaks early in the tournament but I kept calm and grinded out the victory.”
  • “I was sick all week but I stayed positive.”
  • “The other team jumped out to an early lead but we stayed focused on our game and climbed back into the game.    

“When it comes to adversity, you can’t control what happens to you but you can control how you respond to adversity,” believes Cohn. “Learn how to cope with adversity.”

In addition, teaching athletes to actually embrace adversity instead of fearing it will work to their advantage in the long run. Cohn suggests giving them the following advice:

“Remind yourself that coming back from adversity may be difficult but mentally quitting makes coming back impossible,” says Cohn. You have a choice in how you respond to challenges in sports and life. Making the choice to take on adversity is half the battle of dealing with it.”

Lastly, remind your players of what Cohn describes in that same article as “the most important lesson” in responding to challenging circumstances.

“Resiliency keeps you in contention. Resiliency keeps you competing,” Cohn says. “Dealing with adversity can help overcome obstacles and build mental toughness or resilience. And if you respond in a positive manner, you learn and grow from the experience.”

Click here to read the full article.

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