Resilience for the Win
Resilience. Resilience is a word commonly used in the sports world and is thrown around in teams, organizations, and systems worldwide. The definition of resilience varies and, while it is widely used, its importance seems to be rarely emphasized with our youth. Outside of developing character traits like “honesty” and “integrity,” there is arguably no other trait more important than being resilient. This blog will cover not only what resilience is and its importance, but also schemes, skills, and practices that you can implement into your life to foster resilience in your kids.
- the power or ability to return to the original form, position, etc., after being bent, compressed, or stretched; elasticity & buoyancy.
The dictionary definition, a more scientific application of the word, directly relates to how we like to define and teach resilience to our players. When life throws you a curveball, or “bends” and “stretches” your capacity to cope with an event, will you break? Or will your elasticity and buoyancy help you return to your original (or even superior) form?
The peaks and valleys of life are constant, and kids will be subjected to countless challenges and obstacles. Some may occur earlier in life, and some may occur later. These instances of adversity will vary in intensity and frequency. While when and how hard adversity hits is impossible to gauge, one thing is certain: it WILL hit.
Our definition of resilience is: The power and ability to use your skill and mindset to respond with purpose and intention to events or circumstances that bend, stretch, or compress your emotional and physical state.
You’ll notice that our definition of resilience includes “the power or ability to use skill” to respond to adversity. We believe that resilience is just as much a skill as it is a mindset. In order to be resilient, you must practice the skill of being intentional and purposeful in your response. How do we know this? The simple answer: neuroplasticity.
Neuroplasticity is the brain’s ability to reorganize itself, both in structure and in how it functions. Neuroplasticity dictates that the brain has the ability to generate new neurons that lead to new and strengthened synapses by learning and practicing skills. Learning to be resilient is no different than learning how to catch and throw through repeated repetitions and practice. If we want to be resilient, we have to practice the skill…. over and over! On the flip side, neuroplasticity dictates that connections in the brain that aren’t used become weak. For example, someone who doesn’t practice math after graduating college will most likely become less proficient at math skills due to the weakening of these pathways in the brain. This is a great example of how neuroplasticity works. In addition to learning positive skills, the brain learns what is repeated, so unhelpful or detrimental practices can lead to negative outcomes, actions, and habits as well.
What this tells us is we need to practice the skill of being resilient in order to be a resilient person. Furthermore, a resilient mindset is a result of being great at effectively responding to adversity with intention and skill!
Resilience is a common characteristic of the top performers in sports, business, academics, relationships, and more. If this was an easy skill to learn and an easy mindset to achieve, everyone would be resilient. What we notice, however, is that because it is difficult to tackle adversity head on, many kids don’t develop productive ways to deal with failure. All emphasis is put on the outcome (winning or losing a game), instead of what can be learned from this outcome. It seems that too much emphasis is put on winning, and too little on what losing can teach us. If players (and parents) struggle with a defeat in sports, how will they be able to respond to truly adverse situations? We like to say that “failure is fuel.” This mindset allows us to shift to action, instead of wallowing in self-pity, blame, and defeat.
While we should strive to win in everything we do, learning to act resiliently transcends any win or loss on the field. In the words of Urban Meyer, “Losing doesn’t make you a loser, accepting losing does!” It takes resilience to be a winner. We believe that being resilient directly relates to winning more games and achieving more positive outcomes! Teams, players, and individuals who can respond to momentum shifts, deficits, single losses, and losing seasons generally win more games and are more successful in the long run. Resilience helps us operate at maximum capacity in all phases of life.
Developing the Skillset
E+R=O: Event+Response=Outcome. This is a tool we learned from Focus 3 (one of the top leadership groups in the world), and it is something we teach to all of our players and teams. E+R=O dictates that no matter the event, we can control the outcome with our response. Being able to press pause and respond with intentional, purposeful, and skillful action is essential to being resilient! This does not mean that certain events do not come with sadness, despair, or stress. What it does mean is you can respond to this event to overcome it, and achieve the best outcome possible.
The most common example we use for E+R=O relates to someone cutting you off while driving. While this isn’t something truly adverse, it shows how the principle works:
Event: Someone cuts you off while driving.
Impulsive/Negative Response: Lay on the horn, become upset.
Resilient/Positive Response: Press pause and move on.
Impulsive/Negative Outcome: Start further conflict, let the uncontrollable event negatively affect your mood and ultimately your day.
Resilient/Positive Outcome: Your response allows you to remain in control of your mood, emotions, and quality of your day.
“Adverse” Events in sports: In addition to creating positive fitness/exercise habits, athletics simulate negative and positive events that occur in life off the field, court, ring, etc. Players learn how to respond to adversity in athletics through:
- Losing games (by one goal/point or by 20!)
- Disagreements with a coach or teammate
- Physical pain
- Other team scores first
- Losing badly
- Momentum shifts in games/matches
- Not getting as much playing time as other players
- Having a bad practice
- Joining a new team
- Making a team
- Not making a team
THE LIST OF APPLICABLE EVENTS IS ENDLESS
All of these events of perceived adversity in sports can be related to life! Failure in sports can relate to any instance of falling short in life. This could mean losing a loved one, not getting along with a teacher/relative/boss, failing a test, losing your job, not getting into the college you want to, feeling like you are in a career position that is below your value, etc. The truth is, if players consistently respond negatively to failure, loss, and conflict in sports, they are building habits that will bleed into all aspects of their life. More so, if parents do not allow their kids to fail sometimes, how are kids supposed to learn how to be resilient?
E+R=O teaches players how to respond to these events.
Knowing what we now know about neuroplasticity, E+R=O is not only a mindset, but a seemingly scientific way to reorganize the brain in the way we think and respond to conflict!
How we can help our kids become more resilient?
Talking about resilience is great, but how do we take the writing off the page and onto the field, classroom, or boardroom?
- Let them fail sometimes
As parents and coaches, it is our obligation to help kids become the best they can be. Athletics is an incredible way to do this. What better way to teach a player about life than failure in sports? A great example of how athletics relates to life is playing time. Playing time can be the defining factor in a parent or players overall experience, and we see countless parents complaining to or about coaches regarding how many minutes their child played, how other players played more, etc. To them, they see this as failure/mistreatment of their kid and to them, all great parents need to shield and protect their kids from pain. Is this really protecting them, or is it shielding them from important lessons that they will need to grow? We will not be able to help them in a professional setting when they are adults, and we need to help them develop the skills and resilience that they will need for these situations. Our job as leaders and parents is to guide players to the correct response, not to manufacture an outcome for them.
- Failure as Fuel
While it is easy for coaches and parents to see failure as only a negative outcome, we see it as an event to respond to. Losing is never fun, but it possesses powerful tools to help us grow. Seeing failure as fuel elasticizes our mind, and allows us to make the necessary changes to improve our mindset and performance. Failure creates snapshots or moments of truth. Who will you be in that defining moment?!
- Predator Mindset: “Eyes in the front, likes to hunt; eyes on the side, likes to hide.”
Predators in the wild all have eyes on the front of their heads so they can lock in on their prey. The hunted have eyes on the sides of their head, and are constantly concerned about what's going on around them. This analogy directly relates to sports. The "prey" is always worried about the uncontrollables. The "predator" is focused, patient, and driven by the hunt. Predators aren't concerned with what team they’re playing, or how many good players the other team has. They are focused on the task at hand, and what they need to do to execute. Predators use failure as fuel and embrace the ideas of being comfortable being uncomfortable and impatiently patient. The more we can instill a predator mindset in our players, the better they will perform.
Example: In between games at tournaments, players constantly come up to coaches saying “the team we are about to play beat the team we lost to by 5,” or “that player plays for ____ club.” While a game plan is important, it is more important to have a central focus on what the task at hand is. Avoiding this dialogue as parents (and coaches) is essential to building resilient kids, and setting a positive narrative founded on belief and resilience. It is difficult to be resilient when you have already accepted defeat!
Resilience means power over the outcome. Practicing the skill leads to developing the mindset. When adversity strikes, use FAILURE AS FUEL.
All blogs will end with a meaningful and relevant quote. This quote has helped me become more resilient in my life.
“Tough times don’t last, tough people do”