October 6, 2022 • Athletic AdministrationCoaching

6 Strategies to Help Coaches Defeat Adversity

It’s frustrating for athletes when they’re running on fumes, feeling like they have nothing more to give and that no matter what they do there is nothing left to push past a seemingly insurmountable wall. They can feel hopelessness, discouragement, and defeat knocking at their door.

Whether the exhaustion is physical, emotional, mental or a combination of the three, we have all experienced what it’s like to “hit the wall.” While the wall is definitely not a good state to be in, there are two important facts we must remember for our own sake as well as that of the groups or teams we lead or coach.

First, athletes must understand that this sort of adversity can be overcome. They do have more in the tank if they grind it out. Second, when we don’t quit and we overcome these walls, they serve as a catalyst for growth and potentiate future success in a way that we, and our teams, would otherwise never experience.

adversityIn overcoming personal and professional walls, as well as helping athletes and teams overcome their walls, I have developed a very practical list of strategies over the years that I trust can assist both you and your teams to overcome adversity.

Here are six ideas you can use with your own programs.

  1. One Step at a Time

A popular sports cliché is “one game at a time.” This mentality is imperative for individuals and teams to succeed. When adversity strikes, the finish line can seem very distant and the goal, which started out as a motivating force, can instantly become overwhelming and even demotivating.

We must remember that the emotional and physical tank is already running low when the wall comes into the forefront, so the time to focus on the big picture is not now. For this reason, it is imperative to just take the next small step, whichever it may be.

One more action stripped down to the most simple of levels allows us to regain momentum toward the direction we set out when we began. Once you complete that next step, the focus can move to the following step and so forth. Before you know it, you have overcome the wall by taking several small steps forward.

  1. Positive Self Talk

The power of our internal dialogue is well-researched and documented. There is no other moment as important as this to use this cognitive skill.

When you or your team struggles, the battle has to be waged and won inside the mind. The cognitive-behavioral cycle above helps explain how our thoughts give birth to every result we experience.

Every thought is a seed that grows into an attitude or mindset. Our attitudes in turn guide our actions or behaviors, which then yield consequences or results. Our results reaffirm and strengthen our thoughts and the cycle goes on.

If we want to have a different outcome, we must first change our “mental playlist” from negative, defeatist thoughts to positive, conquering ones. The use of cue words and affirmations both silently (internally) and out loud (externally) does indeed begin to energize us towards overcoming the wall and allow us to push past it, thus creating a different result.

The key is to remain positive, even in the midst of difficulties and challenges. This is the choice we, and our teams, must make.

  1. Visualization

This is another very effective technique. At its most foundational level, visualizing simply means seeing yourself in the place you want to be. It is taking our positive thoughts and using our imagination to paint powerful pictures in our mind’s eye. By imagining ourselves successfully overcoming adversity and believing that we can do it, we unleash the inner power inside our minds to fill our bodies with the belief necessary to continue our climb.

A quote I heard in grad school is, “belief is the mother of all reality.” I would add that belief followed by action leads to the new reality we are seeking. Visualizing oneself and our teams being successful sets the stage for the materialization of success. Unfortunately, the opposite is also true.

  1. Mental Strength

There is no substitute for sheer willpower, desire, and the determination to see things through to their completion. Whether this is innate doesn’t really matter as much as the fact that any person can indeed develop and strengthen this kind of grit.

As leaders, we must assist our teams in the development of this skill by setting up challenging tasks for them to overcome. Mental strength, like muscles, must be exercised and built little by little. It is forged only when we come face to face with adversity — maybe small ones at first — and successfully overcome them.

The more we and our teams will ourselves to not quit, the more mental strength we develop, allowing us to take on steeper challenges.

  1. Push Past the Pain

When we reach that point of wanting to give up or surrender to the obstacle, we must push ourselves past our discomfort and pain. Much like a runner’s high produces instant gratification and a release of endorphins, pushing past the pain barrier creates the same kind of euphoric high, which serves as fuel. This mindset also propels our teams from bad to better, from good to great, and most of all, into their personal and collective best.

  1. Focus on the Why

The “what” is the goal, the “how” is the process, but the “why” is where the secrets lie. It’s important to distinguish that the “why” is not the goal itself but the reasons why we pursue a goal to begin with.

We must help our teams find and define their “why” long before the moment when the wall stops our forward momentum. The “why” gives purpose, and it’s the reasons behind the mission and the vision. Therefore, our job as leaders is to help define the team’s joint “why.” If the “why” is not clear, people won’t fight, won’t push, and won’t persevere.

When the “why” is clearly communicated and defined, it serves as a force that pulls our teams toward the goal and past the walls they face.