Five Tips for Overcoming Adversity
By Jeff Janssen
Sports Psychology, University of Arizona
Editor's Note: This is the first in a two-part series by Jannsen on overcoming adversity.
Adversity abounds in every sport. Your opponents are an obvious source of adversity, but there are several other factors that can take you out of your game. Things like judgment-impaired umpires, wet weather conditions, long-term injuries, poor field conditions, and a lack of playing time are just some examples that can frustrate, aggravate, and de-motivate you. As most athletes realize, however, it's not necessarily the amount of adversity you face, but more important, how you choose to handle it.
How you approach adversity is one of the most important keys to your success. Why? Just about every coach can think of at least one highly talented player who crumbles under adversity. When players let adversity get the best of them by losing their focus, confidence and motivation to perform, they end up negating their talent and rendering themselves useless.
The basic key to overcoming adversity is to mentally move from focusing on the problem to focusing on the solution. Successful players understand that they have the power to overcome adversity because they can control how they react to it. They put their energies toward finding solutions rather than dwelling on problems.
The following five tips provide some simple yet effective strategies you can use to help overcome the inevitable adversity that will come your way.
1. View adversity as temporary, localized, and correctable. One of the most important differences between mentally tough players and mentally soft players is how they view adversity itself. Mentally soft players see adversity as ongoing, all-encompassing and unchangeable. Taking a hitting slump as an example, they think it will affect them throughout the season (ongoing), they feel like their whole game is off (all-encompassing), and that they just were not born to be a good hitter (unchangeable). Mentally tough players, on the other hand, view adversity as temporary, localized, and correctable. They believe their hitting has been off a bit the last week, but they feel they are due for the next game (temporary), they have struggled only because they have had difficulty hitting the outside pitch (localized), and if they look to go with the pitch instead of trying to pull everything they can get back on track (correctable).
2. View adversity as an opportunity or challenge. Another key to overcoming adversity is to mentally frame it as a positive opportunity or challenge instead of seeing it as a negative threat. One of the biggest reasons All-American pitchers Susie Parra and Nancy Evans had such fantastic careers at Arizona is that they were challenged by adversity. If a runner got on first, they took it as a personal challenge to keep her from advancing to second. If a runner somehow made it to second or third, they accepted the challenge to keep her from scoring. Great players create challenges out of adversity instead of being threatened by it.
3. Control the controllables. Focus on what you can control in the situationnamely your reactions, focus, confidence and attitude. By controlling the controllables, you will be able to stay calm as you figure out the best way to overcome the adversity. Not surprisingly, the cause of the adversity is typically outside of your control anyway.
4. Take it one at a time. Play in the present moment by letting go of past problems and not worrying about future concerns. If you stay in the present moment and play the game one pitch at time, you make the game much more manageable for your teammates. Remember that you cannot change the past, but you can always do something about the present.
5. Persist. Coaches advocate a persistent approach to adversity, and rightfully so. The sporting world and "real world" are filled with numerous examples of people who suffered through losses, mistakes and problems before they ever achieved success. Typically, losers are the people who didn't realize how close they were to success when they gave up. Giving up is a permanent solution to a temporary problem and gives you absolutely no chance of being successful.
Remember, you've got a much better chance of being successful when you go to battle as a mentally tough player who knows how to overcome adversity.