Sporting Psyche Series 2: Letting it Go- moving on from the ‘Miss’

We cannot succeed in life without experiencing disappointment, underachievement, missed opportunities and mistakes, but perhaps the most important factor in facilitating success is learning how to minimise the negative feelings that are often associated with experiences where our expectations are not met.  Most of us are naturally inclined to elevate the perceived ”failure’ whilst falling to remember the positive, useful and successful memories that we no doubt have. Indeed, the very words and phrases associated with ‘failure’, ‘mistake’, ‘misses’, and ‘letting others down’ are so potent by themselves.    We  often need to modify the language which we use to describe the negative experiences, whether this is simply through self-talk or in conversation with others.   We can also help ourselves by doing a ‘reframe’ so that the experience is perceived and thought about in a more useful and less debilitating way.

Athletes make the mistake of often hanging onto their mistakes whilst performing in competitive games  It is best to work on these ‘mistakes’ is during practice so that it is possible to leave the ‘mistake’ behind you in the past and refocus on what you’re doing right now.   Sports psychologists often refer to the importance of a ‘mistake ritual’ which is a routine that can be carried out sSturridge-missed-penaltyoon after the negative experience and allow one to mentally let go of the ‘mistake’.  These rituals are best when they are simple, brief and sequential so that they can be done without thinking.  The nature and length of the ritual will depend on the context of the sport so with faster paced games like football and basketball, it may have to be very immediate, whilst a slower-paced sport like golf may allow for a more protracted routine.  Such rituals serve to undo the negative experience and in doing so, achieve three objectives, first, to refocus your attention away from the ‘mistake’, second, to physically and mentally calm down, and thirdly, to remove the negative self-talk, and replace it with something more useful.

An example illustrates a possible brief programme for a footballer who has experienced the frustration and disappointment of not scoring in many matches including missing penalties.  Such an athlete may in this instance choose to just say the words ‘erase’, take 3 calm breaths, hold his hand in a fist and say the word ‘goal’.   Such rituals may take time to master and are quite malleable to    An effective tool an athlete can use in a practice or game setting is a trigger. A trigger word or action can help an athlete refocus and clear his or her mind quickly.For example, a tennis player who misplaces his serving throw may choose to step behind the service line, adjust his or her cap, and whilst doing so, he or she is letting go of the previous negative experience of the ‘serve’ and clearing his or her mind the process.   While difficult at first, over time the trigger action will elicit an immediate psychological response. formance errors.  The strong athlete needs to find a way of putting that barrier between the past performance and his or her present state.  Developing “mental toughness” or resilience will help an athlete perform well in the face of adversity. A resilient athlete is one who is able to overcome setbacks, remain confident, and focus on the present (Solomon and Becker, 2004).