Rejection in Sports: Steps To Bounce Back

What does every athlete have in common? They all dream about the successes they will have in their career. However, a sports career will be accompanied by setbacks; and one of the major obstacles an athlete will almost certainly come across is some form of rejection.

Rejection can be experienced in many forms, be it not being picked for a team, being cut from a team, or being unable to get any playtime. In this blog, we will be looking at three steps all athletes can mentally do to deal with rejection in a positive way. 

Step 1: Be careful not to immediately overreact- 

Screen Shot 2021-03-12 at 1.13.13 PM.png

It’s important to first remember in a situation like this to keep it in perspective. More often than not this isn’t personal; so try not to take it this way because you will often lose sight of the learning experience you can get from rejection. Furthermore, don’t be too critical of yourself- self-criticism is beneficial to a certain extent but choosing to remain negative about your ability will damage long-term self-confidence. It’s crucial to remind yourself of your strengths in your sport; the current rejection does not define you as an athlete. It is famously known that Michael Jordan, arguably the greatest basketball player of all time, was cut from his high school basketball team - so it’s important to recognize that every low point in a career can lead to new opportunities just like it did for Jordan.

To briefly sum up this point: do not lose belief in your ability and be too upset that this has happened, otherwise, your emotions may get the better of you and you may sour relationships with teammates and coaches with an overreaction. Approaching this scenario with an ‘analytical’ outlook will be best because this looks at the facts of the situation first about why you have been rejected. By concentrating on these facts; a player can focus on improving themselves quickly as they can plan out a logical process (once step 2 is complete) to solve each problem they may have. Both Step 1 and Step 2 go hand in hand and should be started as soon as you have begun to approach this with an “analytical” psyche. 

Step 2: Get clarity on the matter-

While this may be daunting, asking your coach for feedback as to why it may have happened is the next step to overcoming rejection. This is because it will clear any confusion you have over the matter, only if it's done with the analytical mindset. Your coach will highlight the general areas he/she thinks you need to improve on (be it skills, attitude, behavior, etc.). This makes the process to solve each problem much more effective as you’re targeting improvement in the exact areas that your coach believes you are weak in. This then gives you the opportunity to better your game and become a more solid all-around player in your sport. The success will come from this

The best way to recap this step is through using an example. A basketball shooting guard may be benched for becoming unreliable on making 3 pointers. For example, they may be making only 20% of their 3s, which isn’t a great shooting percentage. The player will then ask the coach why they aren’t getting the minutes they usually do just to make sure they understand. When the coach highlights the weakness, the athlete can then make a plan to try to improve their 3 point shooting. The best person to model for this is Stephen Curry, Golden State Warriors NBA sharpshooter. To improve his shooting, he takes 3 pointers from all around the court and only stops when he makes 3/5. This replicates an in-game scenario with shots coming from different positions and allows the person to get more comfortable with shooting. After hard work, the athlete should be able to get their consistency back and earn a place in the team again, overcoming the rejection! 

Step 3: Determination; try again- 

After the first two steps, the last and most important step is to get back out there and train! When you have free time, practice as much as possible. This allows you to hone in on your skills further, which will pay off in the long term. By taking the time to focus on your own game, your self-confidence will boost. This will put you in the best position to move forward and make you a better player from when you were first rejected because your skills are getting more advanced. 

To complete this step most effectively, an athlete needs to be using weekly plans to assess their progress on a targeted area. For a young quarterback wanting to improve their throwing accuracy in order to do better at try-outs, the first week may just simply be throwing the ball into a marked area of the pitch to gain confidence. After this, the next week’s target can be trying to throw the ball into a marked area from a longer distance than week 1. This may build up over a 12-week period until the person is using moving receivers to throw the ball that is guarded by opposition defense, simulating the game situations.     

This idea has a real-world example that can be beneficial for you to create your plan. The model champion for overcoming rejection in English soccer is the Manchester City defender John Stones

Only last year he was being described as a “massive problem” because his mistakes in key games were the main reason behind the clubs’ poor form. Due to this, his manager Pep Guardiola dropped him from the squad because he believed he “was not in the right frame of mind to participate”. This meant he started just 12 games in the English Premier League 2019/20 season after being publicly rejected. 

Screen Shot 2021-03-12 at 1.13.19 PM.png

To his credit, Stones decided to face the problem and saw a sports psychologist to gain help for his personal issues that caused his errors. This clearly worked because after being given his next opportunity, he thrived and became a key player at the team again. By letting opposing teams only score 3 goals in 11 games against him, he is now looking like England’s best defender and is guaranteed to play at the upcoming European Championships. He best explains how he overcame the rejection with the psychologists’ help in this video.

If there is one thing to remember about rejection - It is not and never will define you as an athlete! 

Works Cited

Boyd, S. (n.d). “Handling rejection.” Wisconsin: US Youth Soccer.

Cole, J. (27th Feb 2021). “John Stones was a massive problem.” London, UK: TalkSport.

Locke, A. (17th Aug 2016). “What I learnt after being rejected from my high schools’ sports team.” Long Beach, CA: Sweety High.

Nicholson, R. (n.d). “The Dreaded playing time conversation.” Seattle: Grassroots football. 

Patino, E. (n.d). “Helping your child handle rejection in sports.” Portland, OR: 

Stankovich, C. (10th July 2013). “Cut from the team.” Columbus, OH: STACK.

Vicuna, K. (26th Nov 2020). “The importance of handling rejection.” Zizurkil, Spain: Reliance Foundation.

Wilson, M. (2nd Dec 2020). “Here’s exactly how Steph Curry is training this offseason.” Arkansas: Sportscasting.

Links for images - 

Basketball player:

John Stones:


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


Color Spectrum in Sport: The Unintentional Raising of Performance Index