Are Your Athletes Prepared to be Punched in the Mouth?

Mike Tyson said, “Everybody has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.” He’s absolutely right. One of the biggest differences between champions and non-champions is how they handle adversity. Some bounce back, but others crumble. It isn’t what happens to an athlete that defines her, but how she responds to that adversity. Unfortunately, far too many athletes don’t have a game plan for when adversity happens.

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My Bounce Back Moment

Dealing with failure is one thing, but how should athletes respond in those pivotal moments of adversity throughout a competition?

I had many of these pivotal moments as a college athlete. In one memorable example, I was 1 point from defeat in a tennis match.

I was down 3-6, 1-5, and 15-40 in what looked to be the final game of the match.

Then, for reasons I can’t recall, I decided to bounce back. I chose to fight and compete harder than I had up to that point.

The rout I was on the receiving end of turned into a long afternoon of grinding.

Ultimately, I fought all the way back to a surprising victory, 3-6, 7-5, 6-4.

When I could have easily given in to the temptation to roll over and die, I decided to bounce back. I only wish I’d done it sooner…and more consistently throughout my college career.

I should have created a plan.

How to Create a Bounce Back Plan

You’ve probably heard the phrase, “Expect the best and plan for the worst.” When it comes to dealing with adversity, athletes must have a plan. I call it a Bounce Back Plan. Here are the 3 steps to create a Bounce Back Plan.

1. Identify stumbling blocks.

Ask your athletes: What causes you to stumble? To lose focus during a game or match? What trips you up and throws you off your game?

Encourage them to get specific…
  • Getting behind in the score
  • Giving up a lead
  • Double faulting
  • Throwing an interception
  • Striking out
  • Letting a teammate down
  • Getting yelled at by a coach
  • A bad call by the referee
  • Heckling fans

2. Craft a resilient thought.

Ask athletes to choose a thought that will help them respond in a productive way to the stumbling block.

Thoughts drive performance, so it is important athletes select a thought that will help them bounce back and refocus to keep their heads in the game.

The purpose of this step is for athletes to predetermine what to think when adversity strikes. Now, they’ll be able to think proactively instead of reactively.

3. Choose a positive response.

As I’ve mentioned before, athletes can’t control what happens to them, but they can control how they respond. They can only control what they think and what they do.

So to complete the Bounce Back Plan, ask your athletes to choose a positive response in light of the adversity. Ask them what they can do that contributes to their team’s ability to win.

For example, if a basketball player got yelled at by a coach as she came out of the game, she could choose to keep her head up and cheer on her teammates.

In summary, 1) What gets under your skin?; 2) What will you think?; 3) What will you do?

Bonus Download

To help your athletes design a Bounce Back Plan I created a poster you can hang in your locker room and hand out to players outlining the 3 steps above.

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Be Prepared for When Adversity Strikes

Don’t allow your athletes to leave their responses to adversity up to chance. Encourage them to develop a Bounce Back Plan and keep their heads in the game when the going gets tough.

Athletes should practice their Bounce Back Plans. With practice the plans will become automatic. They will help your players remain adaptable under pressure. Adversity will strike. Will your players be ready for it?

Question: What stumbling blocks do your athletes need help bouncing back from?

I’d love to hear from you in the comments below, or on Facebook or Twitter.

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Please note: I encourage reader discussion, however, I reserve the right to delete comments that are offensive or off-topic.