Overcoming a Setback in Sports

Many athletes in the course of their career face detrimental setbacks that can negatively impact their performance, psyche, and overall character. Whether it’s related to an injury or major loss, a setback is an event that delays your progress. The problem arises in concern to young athletes that struggle to deal with these mentally straining setbacks. Questions like How do I come back from where I was, and reach even higher? How do I deal with all these negative emotions? How do I stay focused and committed to my goals? This blog will discuss the mental struggles of setbacks and how to conquer them. 

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Athletes all over the world constantly face setbacks and they are hard to cope with, both mentally and physically. Uncertainty arises from setbacks and there are so many unanswered questions. The heartbreak experience of not reaching a goal can make you feel hopeless. These feelings after a setback are common and quite frankly hard to avoid. Although a severe setback can crush you, it can also fuel you to become even greater! Resilience is built and in fact, many of the best athletes embrace setbacks. 


Many athletes don't know how to deal with such a mentally and physically straining problem. To simplify it, here are three important tips to help you get back on your feet and attack the mental struggles. 

  1. Reflect

It’s time to get real with yourself. In order to break out of a setback, you need to figure out what went wrong, accept it, and learn from it. Even if it was an unfortunate injury, could you have prevented it somehow? Take time to look into the future and create a plan. Understand what it takes to be great and compare yourself to those qualities. Review things that need to be changed. Once you’ve reflected, it’s time to get working.

2. Attitude 

One of the most important things in the process of overcoming a setback is to stay positive. It makes the journey more enjoyable and creates a better atmosphere for you. It’s hard to stay positive when you're limited to an injury or have self-defeating feelings, but it has to be done. Actually, faking it until you make it can be beneficial. Research has found that “smiling makes people feel happier, scowling makes them feel angrier, and frowning makes them feel sadder.” It makes the challenge easier and it forces you to ignore the negative thoughts. 

3. Focus

The hardest part when dealing with a setback is staying focused. Focus on your goal, on the process, and on every little detail. When you lose sight of your goal, it will be much harder to attack the setback and break out of the slump. When you lose focus, don’t just give up! Every professional athlete has failed numerous times in their career. It’s about recentering yourself, refocusing, getting back on your feet, and facing your darkest fears. Stay focused on what you can control, focus on the process, and don't quit. Simple breathing techniques and various meditation practices can help you focus. Taking ten minutes out of your day to lay down and meditate can be extremely beneficial!

The Comeback

One of the greatest basketball players in the world, Michael Jordan faced a serious setback. A setback that, if not conquered, would have totally changed the way basketball is viewed today. When he was young, Jordan was cut from his high school men varsity basketball team because the coach claimed he “was not good enough.” After this setback, he went on to be a five-time NBA MVP, six-time NBA champion, 14-time NBA All-Star! He never gave up after hitting rock bottom. He got back up and never quit. He put in the work, and he got the results. 

To come back from a setback and become greater, you need to devote all your energy and focus. Simply, if you put in the time, positive results will come. Most of the work is mental, keeping you stronger to keep going. Setbacks are hard, but when you are stronger, less things in the future will break you.

“Every setback is a setup for a comeback!” -Joel Osteen

Works Cited  

“An EQ-Based Guide to Overcoming Obstacles.” Psychology Compass, 8 Aug. 2018, psychologycompass.com/blog/overcoming-obstacles/. 

“The Psychology of ‘Rebounding’: How to Come Back Stronger From Any Setback.” Women's Running, 23 Apr. 2020, www.womensrunning.com/health/wellness/psychology-rebounding-after-injury-or-setback/. 

Porter, Mr. “How To Deal With Setbacks Like An Elite Athlete.” How To Deal With Setbacks Like An Elite Athlete | The Journal, www.mrporter.com/en-us/journal/lifestyle/how-to-deal-with-setbacks-like-an-elite-athlete-1085602. 

“Psychologists Find Smiling Really Can Make People Happier.” ScienceDaily, ScienceDaily, 12 Apr. 2019, www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2019/04/190412094728.htm.




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