What is Resiliency?

~3 minute read

Resilience is a skill that can help you regardless of what challenges life throws your way. Like any skill, resilience isn’t something that you are born with, but something you can train and improve over time. Having resilience means you can cope with challenges and distress and move forward. Resilience is a particularly crucial skill for athletes, who are constantly dealing with the stress of competition, the disappointment of losing games, frustrations with personal and team performance, the challenge of learning new skills or plays, and set-backs like injury or coaching changes. The more quickly you are able to experience a challenge or loss and bounce back, the easier it will be to continuously progress in your sport and treat losses and mistakes as growth opportunities. 

Resilient people do not experience less sadness or stress than other people, but they are able to handle difficulties with healthy coping skills that foster strength and growth. We’ve included a few strategies for how to increase resilience. Try practicing these when you don’t perform well on a test, lose a game, or experience a minor disappointment or stressful event. By practicing these skills in daily stressful situations, when deeply sad or serious stressful events occur, you will have built up your resiliency skills to better weather those storms. 

1. Reframe your thoughts

Look at a negative situation realistically, and in a way that doesn’t focus on what cannot be changed. Try to resist the urge to engage in blame or regret. Look for small silver linings – did you lose the game but have one or two great plays? Did performing poorly help clarify opportunities for growth and skills to work on developing? 

2. Focus on what you can control

When faced with a crisis, challenge, or problem, it’s easy to get distracted by things you can’t control. For instance, maybe you get caught up on what the weather will be on the day of a big outdoor competition. Instead of wishing it didn’t rain or that the ref made a different call, try focusing only on the things you can directly impact. What can you do to make sure you’re prepared? Getting a good night’s sleep rather than staying up stressing about potential outcomes, packing a rain jacket and towel, and reminding yourself that the rain will affect everyone competing equally are all helpful ways to focus on variables you can control (you might even have an edge on the competition if you know you can embrace the rain and not let it distract you from performing).  

3. Resist “thinking traps”

Be mindful of falling into anxious or catastrophic thinking. One common thinking trap includes black-and-white-thinking or assuming everything is either perfect or a disaster. If you’ve ever made one mistake in a game and then found yourself saying that the entire game was a mess or a failure, you might be prone to black-and-white-thinking. Similar to the advice on reframing your thoughts above, look for ways to see both the positive parts of your game play and the areas for improvement. Another thinking trap is catastrophic thinking, or expecting the worst possible outcome. Catastrophic thinking, also called “snowballing,” might look like letting your worries about a test lead you to fear that you will fail the test, then fail the class, then fail out of school and never get into college. When you catch yourself snowballing, take a step back and try to just focus on the challenge at hand – “how can I best prepare for this test?” You can also try repeating a mantra like, “I’m doing the best I can, and I’m going to be OK.” 

4. Develop a resiliency toolkit

Identify three or four things that reliably help you calm down and clear your mind in times of stress. Example strategies could be breathing exercises, yoga or stretching, going for a five minute walk outside, listening to a favorite song, or journaling. Practice using these strategies before you get completely caught up in negative thinking during a stressful or challenging situation. Everyone’s resiliency toolkit will look a bit different – so take time to try out a few different strategies to figure out what helps you find calm and clear your head. 

5. Talk it out

Acknowledging our stress, fears, anxieties and challenges out loud can often help reduce how much power they have over you. Talking to a friend or loved one won’t make challenges or problems disappear but having someone in your corner can lighten the burden. Talking things through with other people can also help you see challenges in a new light, gain insight, and develop new ways to manage challenges you’re dealing with. 

Resiliency, the ability to rise to challenges, see mistakes as growth opportunities and bounceback after tough times, is part of what makes great athletes, leaders, and individuals great. Resiliency doesn’t mean silencing your fears, your sadness, or your struggles; rather, resiliency is about leaning into your emotions and using them to grow. 

If you’re interested in working with a professional to build your resiliency toolkit and figure out which tools work best for you, check out Galea’s awesome network of mental performance coaches. 


Building your Resilience

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