Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Handling Success as Important as Handling Failure

Over the weekend, several NFL television commentators discussed the issue of parity in the league.  As a result of a topsy turvy first 3 weeks of the 2013 season, these experts felt that many teams, coaches and players were not preparing themselves adequately from week to week.  The number of upsets by underdogs was considered as evidence of a lack of focus on the part of the favorites, not just the parity between teams. Their take on it was that many teams were having a difficult time dealing with early season success. Complacency and arrogance were likely to derail the most talented teams. according to the commentators. Early season success was followed by thoughts that all these teams had to do was show up against weaker opponents to take home the win.  It was pointed out that every NFL team can be beaten by every other NFL team on any given Sunday. Taking a team lightly is risky for any team at this point in the season.  

It is easy to see how early season losses can be demoralizing or, perhaps, help re-orient a team; however, on the surface, it is more difficult to see how winning can derail or stop momentum and distract a team as well.

My experience is that many elite athletes and teams have as much or more difficulty bouncing back from a win as they do bouncing back from a defeat.  Both wins and losses are risky in that they each require athletes to refocus equally after a game or any competition, regardless of the outcome.

Some athletes are more likely to understand that they can learn more from a loss than any win than others. Too often, complacency can occur when players feel post-game satisfaction but do not feel motivated to seek to improve on a win.  A defeat is often able to get our attention much more effectively than winning is able to do.  However, it is important to learn from success as well as failure.

Emotional resilience (which I have written about a great deal in recent blog posts) is typically associated with the adversity of defeat.  For mental conditioning to be optimally effective, we must consider true emotional resilience to also include how to deal with success.  How to sustain focus in the wake or success is more difficult that we typically think.  Complacency after a win is as commonplace as demoralization after a loss.  

Next time you feel the exhilaration of success; celebrate, enjoy, relax, and then, get back to work, analyze, debrief, learn and focus on the next challenge.

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