“I’ve failed over and over and over again in my life and that is why I succeed.”
Michael Jordan

In sport, the requirement to bounce back from adversity is key to long-term success. Research across a range of sports strongly suggests that those who demonstrate resilience to adversity are more likely to reach set goals (Jones, 2002; Mummery, Schofield & Perry, 2004). What is more, a study by Galli and Vealey (2008) in fact suggests that athletes reap long-term benefits from overcoming adversity in their careers, through promoting resilience to future adversity.

Critical to overcoming adversity is a resilient mindset and social support (Galli & Vealey, 2008). A resilient mindset has also been termed ‘hardiness’ or ‘mental toughness’ within sports psychology and has been categorised into three components by Maddi (2004), the three ‘C’s:

Commitment to the desired goals, demonstrated through ongoing perseverance and determination. To reach maximum commitment, it is necessary to focus on why adversity must be faced: what are the goals and potential benefits resulting from overcoming the current adversity? It must further be noted that intrinsic motivation is more effective in increasing commitment than external motivation. In the case of Michael Jordan, his hunger to succeed and be the best far outweighed external rewards in importance.

Control over one’s own environment and future, labelled by Rotter (1954) as an ‘internal locus of control’. There are inevitably many things that cannot be controlled, our competitor’s strengths and weaknesses for one. It is worthwhile to focus on what can be controlled. You can train harder to better yourself, you can keep to routines which maximise emotional control and you can succeed through assuring you commit to the goal and challenge yourself.

Challenge refers to the understanding that some degree of adversity is inevitable on the road to success, and also to the confidence to overcome this adversity. Henderson (2007) notes that training provides a ‘repertoire of strategies’ to challenge future adversity. Targets set must be hard but achievable, so to challenge but avoid instilling a feeling of powerlessness, low confidence and lack of control. In turn, confidence, or ‘self-efficacy’, is enhanced which increases future ability to tackle adversity.

As mentioned earlier, a resilient mindset should be accompanied by social support. Wider biological and psychological research suggests that wider social support can maximise hardiness in sport. For instance, Poulin and Holman (2013) recently revealed that those with greater social support demonstrated lower levels of stress. On a biological level, Poulin and Holman note that oxytocin, also known as the ‘bonding hormone’, is released through close social relations, which in turn decreases stress levels. Such findings are easily applied to sport: social support from coaches, family and friends decrease the negative effects of stress resulting from facing adversity, in turn making it easier to commit to the goal, control one’s immediate environment and have the confidence to face challenges and adversity.

To conclude, both a resilient mindset and wider social support are vital in bouncing back from adversity. This ability to face, overcome and bounce back from adversity increases the number of goals reached, in addition to enhancing resiliency to future adversity.

ReferencesShow all

Galli, N. & Vealey, R. (2008). “Bouncing Back” From Adversity: Athletes’ Experiences of Resilience. The Sport Psychologist, 22, 316-335.

Henderson, N. (2007). Resiliency in Action: Practical Ideas for Overcoming Risks and Building Strengths in Youth, Families, and Communities. San Diega, CA: Resiliency in Action.

Jones, G. (2002). What Is This Thing Called Mental Toughness? An Investigation of Elite Sport Performers. Journal of Applied Sport Psychology, 14(3).

Maddi, S. (2004). Hardiness: An operationalization of existential courage. Journal of Humanistic Psychology, 44, 279-298.

Mummery, W., Schofield, G. & Perry, C. (2004). Bouncing Back: The Role Of Coping Style, Social Support and Self-Concept in Resilience of Sport Performance. Athletic Insight: The Online Journal of Sport Psychology, 6(3).

Poulin, M. & Holman, E. (2013). Helping Hands, Healthy Body? Oxytocin Receptor Gene and Prosocial Behaviour Interact to Buffer the Association between Stress and Physical Health. Hormones and Behaviour, 63(3), 510-517.

Rotter, J. (1954). Social Learning and Clinical Psychology. Prentice-Hall.