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  • Dr. Kaustubh Radkar

How to handle failures as an athlete?

Failure and your attitude towards it!

It’s the end of the year, a lot of athletes, whether amateur or professional, will be introspecting on the year it was. When I ask both my athletes, as well as others I meet during races, the common answer about failure comes in the form of a race related time. Most athletes are fixated on the numbers, either I couldn’t do a sub 2:00 half marathon, sub 4:00 full marathon, so on and so forth. For majority of novice/ amateurs failure comes in the form of not being able to match their expectations.

What is failure?

Simply put the dictionary defines failure as a lack of success. Straightforward isn’t it, if you weren’t successful you failed? But does this hold true in everyday life, and for purposes of this article, in athletics is that the ultimate truth? So every run/ swim/ bike that you couldn’t match either your created goal, or your coach’s would be defined as a failure wouldn’t it? Michael Jordan once said “I can accept failure, but I can’t accept not trying.” Okay here’s someone who is one of the legends in all time sports, even he is willing to understand that it is ok to fail, then why not us athletes whose life doesn’t depend on the sport.

As an athlete with over 25 years of high level racing experience, I feel far too often we use the word failure to demotivate ourselves. Failure for me is honestly not trying hard enough, or giving up far too easily upon something. Understand even the best of the best hurt at times, but it’s their will power that takes them across the finish line, or through that tough workout, so we have to harness this will, how to do that?

Setting realistic expectations:

The advent of social media has exposed us to a lot of information and knowledge, often times trainees/ other athletes come fully charged for a workout, but if they fail they can’t comprehend what happened, what they fail to understand is that it’s okay to have this one bad workout. The motivational videos, the quality shots of Kobe, LeBron beating the buzzer are just 1% of what they do in real life; what athletes don’t understand is the effort that goes behind being a professional athlete. If you go into each and every race/ workout thinking you are going to have your personal best (PB) then you will land up setting yourself for failure.

It starts with setting the right expectations; will you really cut 4-5 mins to get to that sub 2:00 in 3 months? Will you be able to achieve this, the answer can be yes and no. Either ways you need to work hard, but realize race day is race day what happens that day no one can control. For e.g. a lot of people target the Mumbai marathon, and a lot more think they can PB there, okay if all goes well yes you can, but understand the weather is different in Mumbai can you acclimatize to suit that? Will your nutrition be spot on come race day? So if you don’t succeed once, keep working on it till you get it right, this is where your patience comes into play.

Why is Failure such a big deal?

Many of us growing up, I am sure parents, teachers, peers told us failure is bad, how can you fail, failure is not an option and so on. We all had the culture that said, well if you fail, you have not only failed yourself but your entire family, school, etc. Subconsciously we start fearing failure, “what if I fail?” How often do you ask yourself this question? It’s not necessarily a wrong one, but it can leave you in a very negative space in your mind, and can produce a series of emotions like self-doubt, sadness, anger amongst others. These thoughts will become a barrier in your everyday performance, and create low self esteem that starts affecting your overall life. We have seen this happen many times around us, an athlete has one bad season and then they land up quitting the sport completely, or just losing interest in it.

How to move forward?

As an athlete I have failed several times, and just like other top athletes sometimes at the big stage too, but I have found ways to deal with this failure in the most positive manner, and with the right spirit bounced right back from it. There are several different ways one can deal with failures but I will write three ones anyone can use:

  1. 2017 is done, forget about what you missed out on, you cannot go back and change any of it.It can be a race, or a PB, it is over now so you need to work on your 2018 calendar and avoid making mistakes you did in 2017.Its time to let go and start fresh now, time to take the bull by the horns as they say.

  2. All athletes fail at some point, even the greatest of the great do.But they use failure as a tool to build character to reassess both the preparation that was done, and to check if they were mentally tough enough to handle it.Use it to work harder and smarter to bounce back the right way.

  3. Learn from your mistakes, but keep working on your strengths too.It is important to convert your weakness into strength, but at the same time it is important not to lose your strength either.Far too often athletes will ignore core strength, or gym work to add an extra session of whatever their weakness is it could be either swim or bike or run.Don’t ignore the basics, keep working on your strengths too, and make them so strong that some of your weaknesses get hidden.So often with swimmers I tell them work on your technique, especially those going for triathlon don’t waste time learning to master tumble-turns, they won’t be of any use on race day.

Last but not least, you will fail even if you do all the things in this article, that’s guaranteed. However I assure you if you make small changes then the way you approach each failure will be 100% different than how you currently do.I hope this small bit will help you achieve what you want to in 2018, have a great year ahead and a safe new year’s eve that is coming up.

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