How to Deal With Rejection as an Athlete

Dealing with rejection is something all athletes must face

In sports, athletes must get used to failure. It happens all the time, and it’s important to know how to handle setbacks and keep moving forward. But that doesn’t mean this is easy to do.

One of the main ways athletes must deal with failure in sports is rejection.

Rejection can come in many forms, including not making a team, getting benched, and much more.

Dealing with rejection isn’t easy, but is necessary. Because if you don’t learn how to do so in a positive way, rejection will tear down your confidence and only hold you back from being the player you know you can be.

And so, in this article, you will learn tips you can use to handle rejection in sports.

How Rejection Holds You Back

Rejection is a part of sports. You’re not going to make every team you try out for, win every award, or always be named the captain of your team.

Sometimes you’re going to fall short of your goals and you may be heartbroken. But what’s important is continuing to move forward. If you don’t, and you allow the rejection to eat at you, there are many negative effects that will happen.


One of the main ways rejection holds you back is the fear of failure that it causes. If you are rejected in your sport, you might become fearful of it happening again. The result is an avoidant behavior in which you’re hesitant to take any more chances.

Fear takes hold even more when the situation you were rejected from has a lot of emotion tied to it. For example, if you train hard for six months, only to not make the team, that can be devastating.


When rejection happens, anxiety can begin to form. This is due to the worry associated with having to feel the frustration of it happening again.

Anxiety keeps you from performing up to your potential. If you are anxious about being rejected, it’s as if you are going through games tiptoeing.

Success happens on the other side of risk. By always being nervous about the possibility of rejection, you’ll be destined to fall short of almost all your goals.

People Pleasing

Once rejection is felt, you may make many attempts to avoid feeling it once more. This results in people-pleasing behavior, in which you aim to make everyone around you happy.

The belief is that the more you please those around you, the less likely you are to be rejected. However, exhibiting this behavior is not sustainable in the long run.

You will become exhausted from constantly worrying about how to please those around you.

Frustration will ensue as a result of having to always focus on others and never on yourself. Instead of being concerned with our own values and desires, and how to perform your best, you are obsessed with pleasing others, all to avoid the possibility of rejection.


Avoidance behavior is the culmination of living with fear and anxiety. In reality, if all risky and challenging situations that could result in rejection were avoided, then you would never have to feel that hurt again.

Living this way is not fulfilling and will lead to the regret of never chasing your dreams. And never becoming the player you’re meant to be.

Avoidance behavior may seem to be an acceptable solution in the short term for dealing with rejection, but in the long run, it will do more harm than good.

Five Ways to Deal with Rejection

The ways in which rejection holds you back as an athlete are debilitating and can lead to a life of regret and unfulfilled dreams.

It is a fruitless effort, however, to try and eliminate all rejection, since this type of avoidance pattern is one of the main ways it can hold you back.

So, how can you accept rejection as a necessary part of sports, but at the same time set yourself up for handling it in a healthy way?

#1 Take a Step Back

Whenever you’re first rejected, your reaction is likely to be very emotional. That’s natural and okay. You may feel angry, embarrassed, sad, or anything else.

Like I said, that’s natural and it’s okay. But what’s not okay is to get stuck in that feeling. When you’re rejected, if your goal is to handle it in a more positive way, you don’t want to allow your emotions to take a downward spiral.

To help with this, it’s best to step away from the situation. A lot of times this looks like literally removing yourself from the environment. If you didn’t make the team, go home and try to forget about it for the rest of the afternoon.

If you were benched during the game, when it’s over, go do something to take your mind off the game.

You want to immediately try and forget about it and take a step back.

From there, you want to start working to reframe the rejection. After stepping back and giving yourself some time, ask yourself these questions:

  1. Was I the right fit for this position/team/opportunity?
  2. Did I prepare myself the best I could?
  3. Did I really want what I was rejected from?
  4. What could I have done differently?
  5. Is there another opportunity similar to this one?
  6. What lesson can I learn from this experience?

After asking yourself these questions, a situation that normally would have been met with a rash emotional reaction can be turned into an opportunity to grow and improve yourself.

#2 Pay Attention to Your Self-Talk

As soon as a rejection happens, it is easy for your self-talk to turn sour, especially if you are someone who already has a negative internal dialogue.

If you are unfamiliar with what self-talk is, it simply is the way we speak to ourselves on a daily basis. Most people have a pattern of dialogue that goes on, either negative or positive.

Negative self-talk is proven to have a terrible effect on your mental health, including an increase in anxiety and depressive thoughts. However, positive self-talk boosts your mood, improves confidence, and adds to your overall sense of self-worth.

As you can imagine, whenever you are rejected from something, it’s easy for your self-talk to become hurtful.

Some common phrases that I’ve heard athletes I’ve worked with say are:

  • “I knew I wasn’t good enough.”
  • “Why would I think I could get that?”
  • “I’m a failure.”
  • “Of course I didn’t get it.”
  • “It was stupid for me to try.”

Thinking this way aids in the process of grief and adds to the already negative feelings you’re having. This becomes an addictive cycle of self-pity, that unless met head on will continue to repeat itself.

Instead, what you can do is be prepared for this form of internal dialogue and work to counteract it. As soon as you begin to feel negative self-talk take place, immediately cancel it out with a positive statement.

This is not an easy task. But, if you want to deal with rejection in the best possible manner, paying attention to negative self-talk and turning it positive is an important step.

#3 Avoid the Victim Mentality

After being rejected, it is very easy to develop what is referred to as the victim mentality. This is where you feel as if everyone else is to blame for your misfortune, and there is no point in trying to fix anything since all effort for change will fail.

One of the main reasons for adopting this mindset lies in not wanting to take responsibility for the results in our life.

It’s not easy to be the one responsible for a mishap or negative experience. It’s much easier to just blame other people, protecting our own sense of pride.

When we think like a victim, everything that happens to us is the result of something external, never by our own happening.

If you wish to deal with rejection in a better way, the victim mentality must be avoided at all costs. Once we slip into this pattern of thinking, it can be very difficult to get out of.

By taking responsibility for our lives, we gain the ability to change our circumstances. As long as we hold onto the idea that nothing is our fault, making positive progress in our lives will be incredibly difficult.

Even if you feel that the rejection was not of your doing, take responsibility as if it were. This will put you in the position of power to decide on what your next steps will be, no more wasting time blaming and pointing fingers.

#4 Find Some Positives in Your Life

After being rejected, no matter how strong your mindset is, there will be thoughts of sadness, anger, inferiority, and frustration. These are natural, especially if what you were rejected from meant a lot to you.

But while these feelings are natural, they do not have to last. When we allow these negative emotions to stick around, that is where the victim mentality begins to set in.

What you want to do is work to find some positives in your life.

You’ll want to do this during the time when you are taking a step back from the situation. That is why removing yourself as soon as possible from the environment in which you felt the rejection is vital.

Before you say that you can’t find anything positive about your life, I want you to really think carefully about it.

Everyone can find something positive about their life, no matter how dire their situation appears.

You can write down a list of positives, or just think about them in your head. But it is important you get your mind flooded with positive thoughts in order to counteract the natural negative reaction to being rejected.

#5 Decide Whether to be Tenacious or Let Go

At this point in dealing with a rejection experience, if you’ve adhered to the previous four steps you should be in a good mindset to decide on your next move.

No matter what the situation was that you got rejected from, there are only two options to choose from as to what you will do moving forward: be tenacious or let go.

This can be a difficult call since you do not want to give up too soon on something you want, but also do not want to waste time on a fruitless endeavor.

An example would be a high school athlete who was cut from the varsity team. They have the choice to work harder over the offseason and try again the following year or decide to let go of wanting to play that sport.

There really isn’t a right or wrong answer here, it all depends on what you want.

If what you were rejected from is really important to you, then keep on pushing. On the other hand, if it isn’t worth the possibility of further disappointment and you wish to move onto other things, then let go.

Final Thoughts

Dealing with rejection is something all athletes must face, especially if you are working towards any kind of progress. It is a natural part of the pathway to success, and those who handle it well have a huge advantage.

If you allow your natural reactions to take control when rejected, it is easy to feel all sorts of negative emotions.

However, by applying the five principles of taking a step back, paying attention to self-talk, avoiding the victim mentality, finding positives in your life, and deciding whether to be tenacious or let go, you will put yourself in a great position to turn a negative experience into one of growth and improvement.

I hope this article was helpful and will guide you in dealing with rejection in the future.

Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions or concerns you have regarding dealing with rejection or any other sport psychology topics.

To learn more about one-on-one mental performance coaching, please fill out the form below.

Thank you for reading, and I wish you the best of success in all 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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