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How Athletes Learn From Failure

Failure can be inimitable. How athletes learn from that failure can shape their careers.

A few years ago, Jess Movold worked with a running coach whom she didn’t perform well with. The coach led her to push herself too far when it came to training and led to a stress fracture.


“I ran every single run at race pace to fool myself. I didn’t accept my current level of fitness,” Movold said in an interview with Hayley Glatter for Runner’s World. “I tried to rush it, which led to a stress fracture, not running the Boston Marathon and being sidelined for two months.”

The injury, which led to her being sideline in an event she was looking forward to, was a lesson to Movold: don’t let external factors pressure you. When she decided to get back to running she said in the same interview that it is important to set small goals. If an athlete experiences a setback or a failure, small steps can help reach attainable measures until the individual is back where they want to be. 

Kristina Plachecki, a personal trainer/coach, said in an interview with Craig Spear, athletes should set aside time to react negatively to failure.

“As a coach, I suggest that you have 30 minutes to think about the things that didn’t go well and allow yourself to be frustrated or angry, but that is it,” Plachecki said. “After that 30 minutes is up, record all of the things that did go well so that you can refer back to them. Do not allow your thoughts to travel back to the negative experiences you had and refer back to the positive things that you wrote about instead.”

Mental toughness allows athletes to push through failure and to not dwell on the setbacks, like Plachecki highlighted, or missed opportunities. It’s easy to focus on the negative moments in one’s athletic careers, but it will take away from the successes from one’s accomplishments. 

Aspiring athletes should look for a time when a professional player made the same mistake as them, Patrick Cohn wrote in an article for Peak Sports. This way the amerature athlete can visualize someone else who had the same failure, how they bounced back from it and what they could do differently. It’s important to not dwell on the setback and to learn from it. 

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Self-compassion is also an important tool for athletes. It helps players treat themselves with respect. The idea of self-compassion helps one to be kinder to yourself than to be harsh.

“On the other hand, being self-compassionate does not require feelings of competence or worth,” Kent Kowalski and Leah Ferguson wrote for The Conversation. “It simply requires the recognition of suffering and a desire to help yourself through that suffering.”

The best ways to work on self-compassion are guided meditation, writing activities and other practices here

“Athletes with greater levels of self-compassion have greater autonomy (the freedom to make and act on one’s own choices) and body appreciation, as well as lower reported levels of fear of failure, shame and negative self-evaluation,” Kowalski and Ferguson said. 

It’s always important to remember that all athletes at one point experience setbacks. Failure is how athletes assess their skill set, what they need to do differently and how to develop a new approach.

“Failure is simply just feedback for what you need to do next time in order to be successful,” Malcolm Lemmons wrote in a Huffington Post article. “It helps you analyze what went wrong in any given situation and take measures for getting it right next time.”

Photo Credit: Pixabay