Bouncing Back from Disappointment: Athletes’ Roadmap to Resilience and Triumph

Dealing with disappointment is an integral part of an athlete's journey, but setbacks don't define you: It's how you bounce back that shapes your resilience and paves the way for future success.  Photo: Banyana Banyana on Twitter

In the Year of Women’s Sport, opportunities for sportswomen have increased tenfold. But what happens when you’ve worked tirelessly for that big gig, like a World Cup, only to be left out? How do you process the emotions and find a way forward?

Today, we explore the experiences and wisdom of Desiree Ellis, Kylie Lahey, and Beth Mead, to uncover strategies for overcoming disappointment and emerging stronger.

The recent announcement of the Banyana Banyana FIFA Women’s World Cup squad brought both celebration and heartbreak. Coach Desiree Ellis openly shared the emotional toll of narrowing down the provisional squad to 23 players, recognising the disappointment and shattered dreams that followed. However, she emphasised the importance of resilience and encouraged athletes to stay prepared for future opportunities.

“I can see the disappointment; I can see the hurt … but I have to do it.” Ellis acknowledges the hard work put in by athletes and explains that selection isn’t solely about effort but also about various factors. She encourages athletes to persevere, stay prepared, and seize future opportunities.

Ellis acknowledged to the media after the squad announcement: “They put in so much work but at the end of the day I could only select 23 and that was the hard part. I encouraged them to keep going, because there are more competitions to come and you never know what could happen.

“We pray that nothing happens but they have to be ready if something happens. I just encouraged them to stay in touch and keep on working and make sure that when the call up comes they will be sitting on the other side and not on the same place.”

So, how do athletes do it? How do they bounce back from disappointment and ensure they come out better for it on the other side?

Kylie Lahey, a Clinical Social Worker specialising in sports psychology emphasises the importance of acknowledging and processing grief. Lahey advises:

We cannot dismiss the feelings of grief that come with a loss. When we push feelings aside, they come back with vengeance (as mentioned in my prior article related to the development of anxiety and depression).”

Connecting your athlete and their parents with mental health resources, providing empathy and encouragement, and asking them what they need promotes connection, empowerment, and healing.”

Beth Mead, an England football star who has faced recent injury setbacks, including missing out on World Cup selection, offers her perspective.

Managing Expectations

In an interview after her omission, she said: “As a player that is tough, because if I had gone, people would have expected me to be at my best level and probably right now it’s not feasible for me to do that.

“I’ve gone in with quite a level head through the whole process, kept in regular contact with (Coach) Sarina (Wiegman) and if I’m given one per cent of hope I’ll be motivated to try and get as close to that as possible because that’s the type of person I am.

“Now that’s gone I’m going to be number one fan for England and I’ll be rooting for them every step of the way.” England football star, Beth Mead

It can’t be easy to deal with the disappointment of missing out, so the gsport team wanted to share strategies for bouncing back. We can’t wait to share your comeback story on our gsport4girls timelines!

How Do I Face This Moment?

  • Acknowledge Your Emotions: Recognise that disappointment is a natural response. Allow yourself to feel frustrated, sad, or even angry. As Lahey suggests, “Feel it to heal it.” Embracing your emotions is the first step towards moving forward.
  • Seek Support and Understanding: Surround yourself with a strong support system. Lahey advises connecting with family, friends, teammates, and coaches who can empathize with your experience. Their encouragement and guidance can help you navigate the path to recovery.
  • Use Disappointment as Motivation: Let disappointment fuel your determination. Channel your energy into training and honing your skills. As Desiree Ellis emphasizes, keep going because there are more opportunities ahead. Use the setback as motivation to prove yourself and showcase your capabilities.
  • Reflect and Learn: Take time to reflect on your performance objectively. Identify areas for improvement and set new goals. Seek feedback from coaches and teammates to gain valuable insights. Remember that setbacks can be stepping stones towards growth and development.
  • Stay Positive and Supportive: Maintain a positive mindset, focusing on what you can control. Encourage and support your teammates, just as Beth Mead does. Celebrate their achievements and inspire one another to reach new heights. A supportive environment can make a significant difference in overcoming disappointment.

Dealing with disappointment is an integral part of an athlete’s journey. As Desiree Ellis, Kylie Lahey, and Beth Mead demonstrate, it’s crucial to acknowledge and process your emotions, seek support, use setbacks as motivation, reflect on your performance, and maintain a positive and supportive mindset. Remember, setbacks don’t define you. It’s how you bounce back that shapes your resilience and paves the way for future success.

Photo Caption: Dealing with disappointment is an integral part of an athlete’s journey, but setbacks don’t define you: It’s how you bounce back that shapes your resilience and paves the way for future success.  Photo: Banyana Banyana on Twitter

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Launched in 2006, gsport exists to enhance the commercial prospects of our women athletes, and other women in sport, by telling the inspiring story of SA women in sport. Thank you for your contribution!

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