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How to Cope with Disappointments in Sport

Maybe you’ve heard your coach tell you to ‘walk it off’ or ’shake it off’ when something went wrong during a game, or you lost a critical competition. While that advice is usually coming from a well-intentioned place, unfortunately, it makes many athletes feel like it’s not right to feel sad, mad, or disappointed. But if you never feel disappointed, you’re missing out on an important emotional experience. That might sound strange at first, but disappointment can be a springboard to making progress and improving in sport (and in life).

“I always tell athletes that successful athletes are the ones who normalize any emotional experience that comes from competition, and who learn to deal with those emotions in productive ways,” says TrueSport Expert Kevin Chapman, PhD, clinical psychologist and founder of The Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders. Here, he shares ways to cope with—and move beyond—disappointment.

Feel your feelings

“Dealing with anxiety, frustration, sadness, anger, disappointment, and so on is part of being an athlete,” Chapman says. “So first of all, normalize that at some point, you will have those feelings, but they aren’t bad.” Remember, disappointment with how a game went or even how you played shouldn’t equate with being disappointed in yourself as a person. Your self-worth shouldn’t be linked to your athletic achievements.

Make disappointment work for you

Disappointment hurts in the moment, but it provides us with a valuable learning experience. “Ask the million-dollar question when you’re feeling disappointed,” says Chapman. “What did I learn today?” Being able to answer this question can change disappointment from a negative emotion into the fire to come back stronger in the next round. Chapman recommends coming up with three takeaways that you can bring back to practice to work on, or in the case of a tournament, that you can bring into the next round.

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Athlete Health, Mental Health TrueSport