How To Overcome Challenges as an Athlete
Wouldn't it be great if you could go through your whole athletic career and not face one challenge? Everything happens with ease and you brush right along without the smallest bit of resistance.
To be honest, that actually sounds awful! Not to mention boring.
The truth is, challenges are fantastic teachers and catalysts for growth. It is resistance which forces you to improve.
So the wish should not be an absence of all challenges. Instead, it should be to learn how to face challenges and grow because of them.
And the good news is, it doesn't need to be a wish. It can be a reality by gaining a new mindset and approach when it comes to challenges.
In this article, you're going to learn how challenges can truly shape you as a player and ways you can actionably learn from and overcome challenges in your sport.
How Challenges Mold You as an Athlete
What do you think of when you read the word challenge? It's an interesting question, because I would imagine what you see as a challenge may be different than what I or another athlete may see as a challenge.
That's because challenges are unique to each of us. They are setbacks and situations that present resistance and difficulty that we must overcome.
When I hear the word challenge, my mind immediately shoots to my sophomore year of high school. Yes it was a little while ago, but my memory can still stretch that far back.
Anyway, the season was over and we were doing the end of year individual meetings with the coach. I had played second base for the majority of the season because the shortstop was a senior. In my mind, that position was mine for the taking come next season.
Coach seemed to have a different idea. He told me that it would be a battle for the starting shortstop spot, and there was another guy on the team who he could see playing there.
Needless to say I left that meeting frustrated. I did not, however, allow the challenge to push me down and force me to stay there. I rose to the occasion, worked incredibly hard that offseason, and secured the starting shortstop spot for the next two years.
That's an example of a challenge that was met in a positive way. Unfortunately there are many more examples of me allowing challenges to push me around, and worse...tear down my confidence.
Some of those examples include my position being threatened in college (I responded with fear then, instead of the determination I had in high school), hitting slumps, negative coaches, and more.
The point is, when we're faced with challenges in sports there are always two choices, no matter what the challenge may be: work hard to overcome the challenge, or allow the challenge to tear you down.
That is how challenges mold you as an athlete. One way or the other, they are creating the future player you will be.
The aim is to have challenges mold you in a positive way, by facing them with grit and determination. Rising to the challenge, pushing through, and becoming a stronger athlete and person as a result.
Since it's the positive results that stem from overcoming challenges and handling them in a good way that we're after, let's take a look at how doing so will mold you in a positive way as an athlete.
Overcoming challenges will...
- Build mental toughness: to build a strong mind you need resistance. By facing challenges and setbacks and working to overcome them, you will strengthen your mindset in the process.
- Increase your confidence: the more you are presented with a challenging situation as an athlete and push through, the more confidence you will have in yourself and in your skills.
- Improve your self-awareness: knowing yourself is an important skill to develop as a player. Working to overcome challenges will force you to get to know yourself and understand the inner workings of your mind.
- Help you improve: the more challenges you face, the better you must become as a player. This will force you to continually improve your skill set which will lead to higher levels of performance during games.
Tips to Overcome Challenges in Sports
Knowing challenges will mold you into a stronger athlete and person doesn't necessarily make it any easier to face challenges when they come your way. They will still seem overwhelming and daunting at times.
To help, there are certain tips and mindset shifts I've used personally and with the athletes I've worked with in mental performance coaching.
Through these tips and mindset shifts, you can feel confident that you are mentally equipped to overcome any challenge you're faced with as an athlete.
Tip #1: Recognize the Challenge as a Teacher
When you're first faced with a challenge, it's easy to feel frustrated or upset. You may even feel as though it's unfair you're in such a situation. This can be especially true if the challenge you're faced with is an injury.
Though if you are holding resistance towards the challenge and you view it with discontent, that's going to make it that much more difficult to overcome.
Instead, you want to recognize early on the truth that this challenge may prove to be your best teacher.
That's not the most attractive idea, I know. But it's one that will allow you to feel a tiny bit more grateful for your situation and adopt a more positive outlook.
And whenever you face challenges in your game, holding onto a positive perspective as you push forward is of the utmost importance.
So from the beginning, know that this challenge (while it may not be something you wished for) will serve as a strong teacher that will help you grow as a player.
Tip #2: Take a Step Back and Plan
This tip helps with the actual action that must be taken to overcome the challenge.
When you're first faced with a challenge, whether it's an injury or losing your starting position, you may feel overwhelmed. That's natural. The situation likely came on abruptly and is not at all what you wanted to have happen.
From a feeling of overwhelm, it's going to be difficult to get yourself moving forward. To help, you want to take a step back and do some planning.
Sometimes this step back means forgetting about your sport for a day or two (sometimes even a week or more).
Then when you're ready, piece together a plan of action. One that will guide you to overcoming the challenge you've been presented with.
A plan will make you feel secure in the fact that you have a clear idea as to how the challenge will be overcome.
Tip #3: Keep Pushing
As you move forward in working towards overcoming the challenge in your sport, you will likely come across additional challenges. It may even feel as though every possible thing is going wrong and all forces of nature are working against you.
What you must do is keep pushing and moving forward. No matter how frustrated you become or how many additional challenges you face. Giving up will only solidify the fact that the challenge is molding you in a way you do not wish for it to mold you.
You must expect adversity and resistance and be prepared to overcome it and keep pushing forward no matter what.
Tip #4: Focus on Your Goal
This final tip goes off an idea I talk a lot about with the athletes I work with. It's very common for them to focus on what they don't want to have happen during a game.
For example, a basketball player I worked with talked about how he thought about not wanting to turn the ball over.
Another example is from a baseball player who focused on not wanting to strike out or make an error.
Whenever I hear this I always emphasize what kind of picture those thoughts are creating in their mind. They are generating negative images. It's as though they're going up to hit or getting ready to take a shot and a TV is playing a video of them striking out or missing.
The same concept applies to you as you work towards overcoming challenges in your sport.
You don't want to focus on where you're not or how much further you have to go. Don't spend time thinking about what will happen if you don't overcome your challenge, either.
You want to focus on your goal; what you want to have happen. An actionable way to do this is by visualizing yourself overcoming the challenge each day. For example, if you're injured, visualize yourself playing again.
You want to hold the thoughts and images in your mind of what you want to have happen. Not what you don't want to have happen.
Challenges are inevitable in sports. And I think that's a good thing. It's what leads athletes to develop mental toughness, skills such as resilience, and forces them to learn and grow as a player.
But all that only happens if you learn how to face challenges and overcome them in a positive way.
To help, there are four tips you can focus on: recognize the challenge as a teacher, step back and make a plan, keep pushing, and focus on your goal (what you want to have happen).
Through these tips, you can work to overcome any challenge or setback you face as an athlete.
Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.
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Eli is a sport psychology consultant and mental game coach who works 1-1 with athletes to help them improve their mental skills and overcome any mental barriers keeping them from performing their best. He has an M.S. in psychology and his mission is to help athletes and performers reach their goals through the use of sport psychology & mental training.eli's story
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