The Free Press, Mankato, MN

Sports Columns

December 23, 2012

Psychological resilience can make you a better athlete


As I began my run outside this afternoon in fresh snow, 20 mph winds and a “feels-like” temperature of 6 degrees, I couldn’t help but think of the word resiliency. Resiliency, or the ability to bounce back from set-backs or adversity, is a key attribute for any athlete or performer. It can be the key difference in a whether or not a team or individual is able to nail it when it matters most. 
For me, being resilient meant that I couldn’t back down and go home. If I want to perform at my peak in my next race, I had to keep going despite the snow, wind and cold.
Psychological resiliency has begun to be studied in the field of sport psychology and so far the results have been fascinating. Psychological resiliency has been found to be the key difference in a performer’s ability to withstand and even thrive in high-pressure situations such as the Olympics or the Super Bowl. It has been the distinguishing factor in whether performers succumb to the pressure or rise above it and perform to their potential. 
Performers who are resilient see stress and adversity differently than others. They view adversity as a challenge to overcome, not as something that will crush them. They know it is necessary to help them be at their best — and they know that they will rise above it. Resilient people and performers have certain psychological qualities that help them manage stress on and off the field better than others, including confidence, a strong work ethic, the ability to focus and optimism.  
We also know that the world’s best athletes such as Olympic gold medalists believe that if they would have not had experienced a major life adversity — a serious illness, parental divorce or a career-threatening injury — they would not have won gold. In hindsight, they saw these stressors as opportunities to develop a psychological or competitive edge over their opponents. They saw adversity and stress as opportunities for growth and a means to improve.

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