What is resilience?
Resilience has been defined as, “a dynamic process encompassing positive adaptation within the context of significant adversity” (Luthar, Cicchetti, & Becker, 2000, p. 435). Two conditions of resilience are understood to be inherent within this definition:
1. That there is exposure to significant adversity (or risk)
2. That positive adaptation (or competence) occurs (Masten, 2001).
Within many sports resilience is often identified by coaches as a key attribute that is key to success. When identifying this, coaches are often specifically looking for players/athletes to be able to thrive under pressure and respond positively to setbacks. Gucciardi, Jackson, Coulter and Mallett (2011) examined individual resilient qualities in a sport context. Examples of such qualities were adaptability, staying focused under pressure, and handling unpleasant feelings.
Examples of Adversity
Many successful athletes at the top level will talk about how they have overcome various setbacks to reach the level that they have.
For example, Along with Jack Laugher, Chris Mears won Britain’s first ever gold medal in diving. But just seven years ago things didn’t look so promising for Chris. He contracted the life-threatening Epstein Barr virus, and was given just a 5% chance of survival. In 2009 the diver suffered a ruptured spleen and collapsed, losing five pints of blood. He stayed in hospital for a month, and had to have his spleen removed. He made a full recovery and returned to the Games in 2010, finishing fourth in the synchro at the Commonwealth Games.
Tennis star Serena Williams on resilience. After coming back from a life-threatening illness Williams went on to win Wimbledon, Olympic and U.S. Open titles in 2012, and had this to say:
“I really think a champion is defined not by their wins but by how they can recover when they fall. I have fallen several times. Each time I just get up and I dust myself off and I pray and I’m able to do better.”
Responding to adversity – Positive adaptations
Adversity doesn’t have to come in such extreme forms as those that are listed above, there may be some small setbacks in your path that require some work before you can push on. A resilient individual is aware of the stresses that they may face or are currently facing and take responsibility for their actions when faced with adversity. Here are 4 examples you may be faced with:
1. Are you part of a team that is constantly changing personnel while they are trying to find the right combination of players? How would you respond to this?
2. Are you struggling financially to remain a part of the sport that you love and want to keep playing? How would you respond to this?
3. Are you finding one skill or aspect of your performance difficult to master? How would you respond to this?
How can I become more resilient?
Some of the most resilient athletes I have worked with have utilised the following skills and strategies to help them:
• Reflect on situations – Even the smallest setback can help you develop resilience. Reflect on what happened, why it happened? Work out if there is anything you can do to prevent it happening again, if there isn’t then how will you need to respond differently in similar situations. This will help you develop a growth mindset and not stay in the same fixed processes every time.
• Build relationships with people. It doesn’t matter which of the examples you look at from the last section. Being proactive to get to know people, how they could support you and just as importantly how you could support them will help you through these challenging times.
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About Rebecca Chidley
Sport and Exercise Psychologist. Currently working with Table Tennis Wales, Newport County Academy Football Club, Valleys Gymnastics Academy and individual athletes from various sports. Applied experience in Golf, Hockey, Triathlon, Rugby and Football. Player and coach for Cardiff and Met Hockey Club.