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Moving on after a loss: Tips to help you bounce back after a poor performance:

Updated: Jul 5, 2023

For an athlete, poor performances are a part of life. To make sure you recover mentally after a loss, this post will assist you in the process.

I have had so many athletes come to me and say, "I played so badly on the weekend, what do I do?

Many athletes want to know the answers to the following questions, so this blog will aim to address them.

  • *How can you/I prevent one bad routine from turning into another bad routine?

  • "I'm in a form slump? What can I do to get out of it?

  • *How can I avoid following up a poor game by another poor performance?

  • "I don't think I will get selected for the team this week due to my poor performance"

Many athletes after their poor performance will experience, flatness, regret, over-analysis and will try and talk about the difficulty of getting over bad performances. It's really hard to do. They often sometimes expect bad performances to continue to the next and never see the light at the end of the tunnel.

The first rule is: Don't make a permanent decision based on a temporary emotion.

It is a good thing that athletes who have a hard time getting over bad performances. It means they care. If they didn't feel anything after a bad performance, the desire is gone, there is no motivation to get better.

Another perspective is that after a bad performance, the athlete may see themselves as having less ability, genuinely believe they are not good enough or even feel they are not capable of bouncing back at all.

Losses, bad performances, and the general struggle is part of being an athlete.

With that said, I always say to my athletes that work with Athlete IQ that one bad performance does not define who you are as a person or a competitor. Thus, one bad performance does not need to impact your next performance. It will only happen if you hang on to it. The athlete needs to be super aware to move on and forget, review the performance learn from it and quickly move on.

You as an athlete are not bound by what happened in your last performance. Nor by what other people say about your performance. Every new opportunity to perform is an opportunity to grow. You can indeed wipe the slate clean, use the loss or bad performance as a learning mechanism and start afresh

Look at it as each new competition brings with it new opportunities.

It's a simple but Interesting concept, right? It's so natural for a person to immediately jump to the negative connotation with everything in life – not just sport.

Many are probably thinking, "I know I should let go of the past, but I can't!" I just can't forget about this loss; my game was so bad".

I'm here to tell you that you can – and it’s quite easy to do. Most elite athletes when they experience a bad performance will immediately discuss it. This is important. Your support team here is vital.

Talking about something is a great way to heal, regardless of the situation. Nothing is too big or too small that's not worth talking about. Your mental health and general well-being is the most important thing for you as an athlete.

Knowing that you can only happen with the right mindset. You can learn to move on from past performances, reignite the desire to work that little bit harder and focus on the opportunities in front of you that you may not see.

Rory McIlroy employed the right mindset at the 2019 Tour Championship when he came from behind to win the Tour Championship and, along with it, the FedEx Cup.

McIlroy assesses the situation correctly and views the start of each round of golf as a new competition. It keeps him mentally refreshed and energized.

McIlroy: "I try to treat it like any other event, try to pretend like everyone was starting at even. And my goal this week was to just try to shoot the lowest score of the week, try to score the best score and if that wasn't good enough then so be it."

McIlroy's has great people working with him. His mindset is that yesterday does not dictate how he will perform today.

There is no baggage, no weight of expectation. He just plays. This mentality allows McIlroy to let go of past performances and past shots. McIlroy simply wipes the slate clean before every new opportunity. Every shot. Every hole. Regardless of what is happening around him. He focuses on himself and is responsible for his mindset to give him the best opportunity to perform. It doesn't guarantee victory, but for him, it develops consistency.

Working with a good coach, you can learn to apply the same strategies and mindsets to bounce back after a bad performance. Wipe the slate clean so to speak.

In summary – here are some tips that you can take away from the article

  • Instead of dwelling on what has happened, focus on making things happen in the present.

  • Be present, don't look back in the past. Learn that it happened, accept it and move on

  • The ‘ability to forget’ mindset is a vital ingredient to a performance

So, by letting go of your past performances, you, in principle, hit the reset button. Subconsciously you are training your mind to start new with the opportunity right in front of you. You have to practice this over and over again. Do not fear to lose, there is an opportunity as there is feedback in the performance.

Learning how to start anew is a skill.

Learning to stay in the present is the common thread that runs through all mentally tough and successful athletes.

Moving on or past a missed opportunity is hard to do. There should be time being spent feeling the loss. This time should fuel the desire to learn and grow from the lessons learnt from defeat.

Many athletes can get very traumatised from defeat. They may never be the same player again. The Champions become better players.

For an up-and-coming athlete still learning their card, please understand that;

· A missed potential game-winning jump shot does NOT define you

· A fall in a routine during a major competition does NOT define you

· A dropped catch in a cricket game does NOT define you

· A missed penalty does not define you

· Losing the final in a tennis tournament does not define you

Make no mistake - Missed opportunities can be bitter pills to swallow. They are extremely tough to deal with. It’s so easy to look at the negative. I’ve been there.

You see as heartbreaking as a mistake or costly defeat can be in at any level, you must realise that it is all part of the journey. Realise that one moment does not tell the truth about who you are as an athlete, as a person and it this overall context as a competitor.

Here are a few examples from some of the world’s greatest athletes;

Roger Federer has played 31 Grand Slam Finals – He has won 20 Lost 11. At the same time, he has played over 60 Grand Slams – He hasn’t won them all. Yet he is still regarded as the greatest player of all time in Tennis. The most recent is from Roger Federer having two match points in the 2019 Wimbledon Final. He ended up losing. I encourage you to YouTube his press conference post-match. It is pure class and you can see why from the language and attitude he has on why he is so successful.

Another great example to put things in perspective is famously from Michael Jordan.

I've missed more than 9000 shots in my career. I've lost almost 300 games. 26 times, I've been trusted to take the game-winning shot and missed. I've failed over and over and over again in my life. That’s why I succeed.

99% of Athletes experience this as a difficult concept to buy into.

Don’t get me wrong. Ask any champion athlete, the sting of defeat is real, raw and hard. However, some athletes agonize when they see themselves as the sole reason for a negative outcome. They can’t move forward, they become paralysed.

It is completely natural to start blaming yourself. It is also understandable to experience negative emotions after a missed opportunity.

I get it, you put in a lot of work, dedicate a lot of money and made a lot of sacrifices to come up short. You’ve invested a vast amount of time and make tremendous inroads as an athlete to put yourself in position to succeed. You want to win; you want the victory. Seeing it all slip away can be deliberating, being so close but yet so far - it can be devastating for some athletes.

Know this: As hard as it is to accept, you are more than that one moment. You won’t realise it in that moment – but in hindsight, you will.

A great quote that I like to vex from time to time is the following.

“As an athlete, you are the sum total of everything you put into your sport’. So win loss or draw, people always remember the competitor not the victories or losses.

A common theme for most retiring athletes is when you ask them what they miss the most about their career – they answer with “I miss the relationships, the memories, the unity, the hard work, the journey’…the thrill of competition.

They hardly remember the victories or losses – it become less important so to speak. They are grateful for every experience.

Know that if you are what I call an authentic competitor – You are the following;

1 You are a hard worker 2. You are resilient 3. You are love competing and overcoming challenges like coming back from injury and overcoming mistakes You are an achiever who has risen to many challenges and improved your game throughout the years. 4. You constantly look for opportunities of growth

Finally, you are more than just an athlete… You are a whole person with a huge heart, many talents, great skills, and positive qualities outside of sport. You are a leader.

Its difficult to accept this.

For you it may be extremely difficult to wade and swim through the negative thoughts, frustrations, regrets and other complex emotions after missing out on an opportunity or a key victory, there may be lots of prize money involved.

You need to see however the big picture. If you are an authentic competitor, you will relish the experience. Read that again. You will want to learn from the experience and be motivated to bounce and be back mentally stronger and better in the future. You keep moving forward. The athlete must have a progress at all cost’s mentality. It will test you in the hardest of times. Be kind to yourself in these periods.

So how do you do this:

· Feel what you need to feel, don’t supress The Feelings you experience – The disappointment is undeniable, and it is completely normal to experience those negative waves of emotions.

· Take Responsibility and Accountability – The first step to move on is to take responsibility for your performance. Know where to get better. Experience is gold.

· Don’t make excuses. Enough said.

· Credit Your Successes – If you are going to admit to your mistakes and shortfalls, you must also credit yourself for your successes and where your strengths and positives lye.

· Don’t dwell on it for too long: Move On – The art of Letting go is a skill. It’s so hard to do. After some short amount of time, you will need to move forward. You can’t reach your potential as an athlete if you carry that negative baggage forever.

· Talk and Communicate with your support team.

· Learn from the experience – Identify what you can learn from the experience to improve your game in the future.

· Learn to Endure and Accept. Don’t allow one moment define your role in sports.

Rafael Nadal - Enduring means accepting. Accepting things as they are and not as you would wish them to be, and then looking ahead, not behind.

Summary: Moving Past a Missed Opportunity and Defeat in a Competition:

· It is very easy to dwell on mistakes, or one missed opportunity or a loss - but it’s not healthy or beneficial to you as an athlete. Remember its part of the game and the challenge.

· Always try to move forward, regardless of how slow progress feels and looks like – it is still moving forward. Learnt to know yourself by listing all the things that helped you get to where you are… all the sweat, the sacrifice, time and money you spent on all the extra hours of training, all the successes and the struggles, etc. You will learn to cherish every moment because you will have the ability to feel and be authentic.

· Learn to see the missed opportunity from another angle. Defining yourself in broader terms will help you develop the mental toughness needed to succeed in the future. It will help you stay motivated.

· Always remember that playing sports is what you do, not who you are! Life will go on.


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