What Loss in Sport Can Teach Us About Resilience & Mental Health

What Loss in Sport Can Teach Us About Resilience & Mental Health

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In the wake of England’s loss last night, and the torrent of social media abuse toward the players that followed, consultant clinical psychologist Dr Krause (CEO of youth mental health charity stem4), has issued some mental health advice relating to loss in sport, and the emotions that follow:

Sport is one of the best ways for young people to learn about building resilience since it provides an opportunity to experience failure, and learn to deal with set-backs. Whilst it is important that sportspeople themselves learn to move away from being self-critical and harsh when they face a set-back, supporters can also play a role in building their resilience by avoiding placing unnecessary criticism and blame.

One major element of resilience and our ability to ‘bounce back’ is acceptance and compassion. In sport there is always going to be a ‘winner’ and a ‘loser’- and there is comfort in knowing that, high or low, this will always be a shared experience. In those times of loss, whilst sportspeople should learn to practice self-acceptance and self-compassion, supporters can also help by practicing ‘other-acceptance’ and kindness. In order to do this, both sportspeople and supporters need to learn to balance their thoughts and emotions. 

Our emotions are very powerful. One emotion that is particularly hard to deal with is disappointment because it contains within it two very powerful emotions – sadness and hurt (which can often show as anger). Suppressing these emotions doesn’t work, so the first step is to find a way to express them in an effective and safe way. This might mean sharing feelings with friends, writing down how you feel, or doing something that’s self-soothing. Social media is not a good way to express emotion – it’s so immediate that it doesn’t provide the time for self-reflection, makes you lose control and spreads fast. So, talk with friends, or write things down the old-fashioned way with pen and paper for you to re-visit and re-read later. Expression helps reduce the strength of emotions and gives a ‘handle’ on being able to think differently. 

The second step is to start exploring different perspectives. Is getting to the final goal the only achievement the team can make, or can you focus on all the other achievements that happen along the way? According to Winston Churchill, ‘success is the ability to go from one failure to another with no loss of enthusiasm.’ 

The third step is to catch the ‘negative thinker’ within you, and redirect your energy and focus onto all the positive solutions that are possible in the future. Disappointment can strengthen and lead to even greater strength and effectiveness. Let’s celebrate our English team and thank them for helping all of us learn that, although disappointment is inevitable, being discouraged and defeated is a choice. 

Image: Thomas Serer

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