“I Didn’t Play Well! Now What?” 5 Mistakes to Avoid After a Bad Performance

Sometimes things go the way we want them to and we perform well, other times things go less smoothly and we end up performing badly. All athletes and sportspersons on all levels have and/or will experience a bad performance; it is inevitable

After poor performances or failures, athletes usually experience negative and unpleasant emotions such as anger, sadness, fear, and shame. Often they sink into a “slump” and lose motivation and self-esteem. 

If you have ever been in such a state after a bad performance, here are 5 mistakes you might want to avoid:

1. Not accepting failure or shortcoming: Going through a sporting career without accepting that there will be failures and shortcomings is a view that is too perfectionistic and idealistic. Remind yourself that bad performances are inevitable, and soothe your mind by knowing that no one, no matter how big in the game they are, wins every game, competition, or match they play.

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A good example is Lionel Messi, a professional football player who plays for the Argentinian national team and FC Barcelona. Despite his many titles and talents (ballon d’or awards, 34 trophies…), he missed a crucial goal opening during the Barcelona vs Slavia Praha match in the Champions League group stage round in 2019. As Chachra put it: “Lionel Messi misses an open goal against Slavia Prague, the miss by Messi makes one think that the golden boot winner is also a human.” 

You can find the clip of the missed shot here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=HZcodsduvjk (minute 1.11)

2. Focusing on mistakes: A bad performance can weigh heavily on an athlete's shoulders as they may start questioning their abilities and their goals. These questions about past performance are important for evaluation but become counterproductive if the athlete dwells too much on the mistakes that happened. Dwelling on mistakes can only hinder an athlete’s sporting journey by shifting his/her focus on the past rather than on the present. Focusing on the present is the most important aspect of a good performance, as the athlete’s complete attention is directed towards the task at hand. That is why it is important to remind oneself to move on from mistakes or bad performances as they are part of the learning process.

3. Isolating: After a bad performance, it sometimes seems like a good idea for the stressed athlete to isolate away from teammates, coaches, fans, family, and friends. The athlete may choose to be alone to think about the performance, to avoid showing that they are stressed, or to step away from comments from his/her entourage. It is important for athletes at any level to know that good social support is important to help protect against stressors. A social support system can help the athlete: 1) reinterpret the bad performance as a chance for growth, 2) get motivated to train and perform better, 3) feel loved and cared for and 4) receive advice and feedback. Having emotional support from teammates, coaches, friends, and family, can improve the athlete’s mood and boost his/her self-confidence. Additionally, talking about his/her feelings and thoughts can help the athlete process the bad performance or mistake.

4. Self-doubt and negative self-talk: Think back to a time you had a bad performance and followed it with thoughts like, “Am I even good enough?” or “Should I keep competing?” As a result of these thoughts, you probably experienced feeling sad and unmotivated. Following a loss or bad performance, you might engage in self-doubt and/or negative self-talk or may choose to accept it and gain knowledge from it. Beating yourself up about a bad performance will only negatively affect you! Thinking of this bad performance as a learning opportunity and as fuel for your motivation can boost your future performances.

Note that it is normal for all athletes to have these thoughts and feelings. With experience, practice, and resilience (to the degree of to elite-level athletes), self-doubt and negative self-talk can be used to give you a competitive edge, just like how tennis player Rafael Nadal shows that doubt is an important component of his success: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=bTSp4psUvDM

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5. Negative beliefs: Following a bad performance, an athlete’s self-esteem can sometimes take a harsh blow, in turn leaving room for negative beliefs about himself/herself to run rampant. Negative beliefs can look like, but are not limited to: “I will never be good enough,” “It is impossible for me to win,” “I stink at this,” or “What happened was awful.” These negative beliefs about yourself or your performance can majorly affect your emotions and can be a huge obstacle to your future athletic success, as negative beliefs will only breed more bad performances. Rather than focus on negative thoughts, an athlete can focus on accepting that bad performances are a part of an athletic career. An athlete can also challenge the thought by asking himself/herself, “If I had a bad performance, does this mean I will keep on having bad performances all the time?” It is important to recognize these negative beliefs and note that they are unhelpful and act as a barrier to peak performance.

Works Cited:

"HIGHLIGHTS | Slavia Prague 1-2 FC Barcelona". FC Barcelona, 2019.

"Rafael Nadal Says Self-Doubt Is The Key To His Success". CBS News, 2020.

Callan, Mitchell J. et al. "Making Sense Of Misfortune: Deservingness, Self-Esteem, And Patterns Of Self-Defeat.". Journal Of Personality And Social Psychology, vol 107, no. 1, 2014, pp. 142-162. American Psychological Association (APA), doi:10.1037/a0036640. Accessed 1 Mar 2021.

Chachra, Tanish. "Lionel Messi Misses An Open Goal Against Slavia Prague In A Rare Occurence | The Sportsrush". The Sportsrush, 2019, https://thesportsrush.com/lionel-messi-misses-an-open-goal-against-slavia-prague-in-a-rare-occurence/.

Cohn, Patrick. "Do You Beat Yourself Up And Lose Confidence After Defeat?". Peak Performance Sports, https://www.peaksports.com/sports-psychology-blog/do-you-beat-yourself-up-and-lose-confidence-after-defeat/.

Katagami, Eriko, and Hironobu Tsuchiya. "Effects Of Social Support On Athletes’ Psychological Well-Being: The Correlations Among Received Support, Perceived Support, And Personality". Psychology, vol 07, no. 13, 2016, pp. 1741-1752. Scientific Research Publishing, Inc., doi:10.4236/psych.2016.713163. 

Nummenmaa, Lauri, and Pekka Niemi. "Inducing Affective States With Success-Failure Manipulations: A Meta-Analysis.". Emotion, vol 4, no. 2, 2004, pp. 207-214. American Psychological Association (APA), doi:10.1037/1528-3542.4.2.207. 

Pellizzari, M. et al. “Pre- and post-performance emotions in gymnastics competitions.” International Journal of Sport Psychology 42 (2011): 278-302.

Poczwardowski, Artur, and David E. Conroy. "Coping Responses To Failure And Success Among Elite Athletes And Performing Artists". Journal Of Applied Sport Psychology, vol 14, no. 4, 2002, pp. 313-329. Informa UK Limited, doi:10.1080/10413200290103581.

Rosi, Alessia et al. "The Impact Of Failures And Successes On Affect And Self-Esteem In Young And Older Adults". Frontiers In Psychology, vol 10, 2019. Frontiers Media SA, doi:10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01795.

Solomon, Gloria B. "Overcoming Performance Errors With Resilience | Association For Applied Sport Psychology". Appliedsportpsych.Org, https://appliedsportpsych.org/resources/resources-for-athletes/overcoming-performance-errors-with-resilience/.

Spear, Craig. "An Athlete's Mindset: Dealing With Failure - Momentum Fitness". Momentum Fitness, 2016, https://getmomentum.ca/athletes-mindset-dealing-failure/.

Wężyk, Agata. "Relationships Between Competitive Anxiety, Social Support And Self-Handicapping In Youth Sport". Biomedical Human Kinetics, vol 3, 2011. Walter De Gruyter Gmbh, doi:10.2478/v10101-011-0016-3. 

Yang, Jingzhen et al. "Social Support From The Athletic Trainer And Symptoms Of Depression And Anxiety At Return To Play". Journal Of Athletic Training, vol 49, no. 6, 2014, pp. 773-779. Journal Of Athletic Training/NATA, doi:10.4085/1062-6050-49.3.65.

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