How to React After a Bad Game

No one wants to have a bad game

There’s one thing pretty much all athletes can agree upon…nobody wants to have a bad game!

When you underperform this can leave you feeling frustrated and maybe even a little embarrassed. We can’t change the fact that a bad game happened, but we can change how you react to a bad game.

Playing badly is terrible, but what’s even worse is having that one bad game lead to more bad games. And the way that happens is by you reacting in a negative way. Allowing your frustration and disappointment to get the best of you.

Responding to a bad game in a different way isn’t easy to do at all. Which is why we are going to outline two tips you can follow to help you react after you have a bad game.

But first, let’s take a look at what happens when you don’t respond in a good way…when you allow the bad game to get the best of you.

What Happens When You React Negatively to a Bad Game?

How do you normally react to playing badly? Do you get upset with yourself, maybe tell yourself how much you let the team or your coach or your parents down?

From a sport psychology standpoint, the reason you want to be sure you react to a bad game in a positive way is because of the impact it has on your mental health and your future performances if you don’t.

Let’s say that you beat yourself up after a bad game. How do you think you’re going to feel that night? Probably pretty lousy. What about the next day? Do you typically shoot out of bed ready to get back out there and compete?

No. For the most part, you probably feel like hiding under the covers. I know I did when I was in college. If I had a bad game, I felt embarrassed to even show my face in front of my teammates. It was like a bad game hangover.

But the truth is, bad games happen and you shouldn’t feel like less of a person just because you underperformed in a competition.

The more this goes on, the more of a negative impact it will have on your mental health. If after every bad game you go into a mini depression, how do you think that’s going to impact you long-term?

Also, when you react negatively to a bad game, this leads to fear and anxiety moving forward. You know you don’t want to feel those intense negative emotions again, so you begin to fear making mistakes and worrying a lot before and during games.

This is where we see reacting to a bad game hurt your future performances.

So, if you don’t care about getting upset with yourself and that doesn’t worry you, the fear and anxiety it causes should. Because it is that fear and anxiety that will lower your game moving forward and increase your chances of having more poor performances.

The more you beat yourself up, the lower your confidence will drop as well.

Given these negative consequences to negatively reacting to bad games, how should you respond in order to make sure these don’t happen?

Learning How to React to Bad Games

To make sure the negative consequences don’t happen, you must learn how to react to bad games in a more positive way. Now, this does not mean that you are going to be happy about having bad games.

That’s one thing I need to make clear. Because if you think that’s what you must do, then it’s going to be very difficult to follow these tips. Because what athlete wants to feel happy about performing poorly?

Of course you aren’t going to be happy about it! But that doesn’t mean you can’t react to the bad game in a more positive way. And by positive, I mean a way that increases your chances of performing well moving forward.

As a mental performance coach, one of the best approaches I’ve found is keeping things simple and actionable. That way, you as the athlete, can take what you learn and apply it directly to your game (or after your game, in this case).

You can know all the tools and techniques in the world, but if you don’t apply them, what good are they going to do you?

So the tips I’ve outlined below are simple and easy to apply. But that does not mean they aren’t powerful. They will work greatly at helping you respond to bad games in a more positive way.

Tip #1: Create a Set Evaluation System

As an athlete, it’s easy to move past good performances quickly while holding onto bad ones. When you have a good game, you may feel happy about it for a little while but then you let it go, move on with your day, and start thinking about your next game.

That’s because in your mind, you’re supposed to play well, right? So what’s the use of thinking about it too much?

Only, we see a huge difference when it comes to how you think about a bad game. After a bad game, it’s a lot more difficult to let it go. You may even carry it with you for a few days or into your next game.

So right there we see a huge disparity between the attention you give to a bad game versus a good game. But if you want to react differently to bad games, you need to learn how to let them go quicker and not give so much negative attention to them.

To help with this, one of the best approaches I’ve found is beginning to evaluate each game in the same way. That way, no matter if you played well or had the worst game of your life, you go about reacting in a similar way.

This reduces the negative reaction you have to a bad game because you are now evaluating it in the same way you do all games. It helps you take more of an objective approach.

To evaluate your performances, you want to keep things simple. You also want to be sure you are focusing on what you did well first. This really comes into play after a bad game.

Following a poor performance, your mind is going to want to start picking out every last mistake you made. So, before you can really look at what you did wrong, you need to protect yourself a little bit by first identifying some things you did well.

To make this evaluation system as simple as possible, begin answering these questions after every game (and I recommend you answer them in a journal):

  • What did I do well today?
  • Where can I improve both mentally and physically?

If you start answering these questions after every game, it helps you manage your emotional reaction following a bad game because you are taking more of an objective approach and you separate yourself a little bit from the game emotionally.

Tip #2: Be Careful How You Think

Your thoughts are very important to responding differently to a bad game.

When you normally respond negatively, what do you typically think about? I’m going to guess what you think is pretty negative. Sometimes things you may never dare to say to your teammates. Yet, they’re okay to say to yourself.

After a bad game, it’s easy to open the gates and have negative thoughts set free. They stampede around your mind, sometimes for days. And with each remark, your confidence drops further and the anxiety and fear I described earlier begins to grow.

That’s why it’s important for you to be careful how you think after a bad game. You want to take control of your thoughts to be sure they do not run out of control.

To help with this, it’s best to create what’s known as a self-talk routine. This will consist of a set of statements you create that you will repeat to yourself after a bad game.

The reason it’s important for you to create the list ahead of time is because of how difficult it will be to try and think more positively following a bad game. Those negative thoughts are going to try and take over.

Create your self-talk list and then reread it each day to memorize it. Then, when you have a bad game, repeat those statements in your mind.

Final Thoughts

No one wants to have a bad game, but the truth is, they happen. At some point or another, you’re going to underperform and you’re going to be upset about it. But the important thing is to respond in a more positive way.

That doesn’t mean you have to like the fact that you just played poorly.

But it does mean you need to respond in a way that makes sure you don’t get too down on yourself and puts you in a position to perform well in your next game rather than increasing your chances of having another bad game.

To respond differently to a bad game, you first want to apply an evaluation system to all of your games. Then, when you do have a bad game, pay attention to your thoughts following the game and use self-talk statements to help you do so.

If you have any questions about reacting to a bad game or mental performance coaching, please fill out the form below and I’ll be happy to get back to you.

Thank you for reading and I wish you the best of success in all that you do.

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Please contact us to learn more about mental coaching and to see how it can improve your mental game and increase your performance. Complete the form below, call (252)-371-1602 or schedule an introductory coaching call here.

Eli Straw

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.

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