Bo Hanson, 4x Olympian and Coaching Consultant. 

Coaching Resiliency in Sport

Are you enabling or disabling resiliency with your environment?

Recently we were over in the University of Notre Dame, which is a phenomenal place and we enjoyed our time there. It was at the ‘Play Like a Champion’ Conference and myself and Liz, we both presented a presentation to the whole audience and we spoke specifically about developing mental toughness or if you like resiliency.

I thought we’d do a quick few minute video on some of the key concepts we presented.

Firstly we defined what mental toughness or resiliency is. At its simplest form it is your ability to bounce back from adversity or if you like it’s your ability just to get the job done regardless of what the scoreboard is suggesting. If you’re way in front, you perform your task to the best of your ability. If you’re way behind, it has no impact on how you perform your task. You do your job, you do your role, you get your job done as best as you possibly can regardless of the external circumstances.

It’s really important to realize that resiliency and mentally tough people, when they’re bouncing back from adversity they often don’t bounce back in exactly the same form as what they were before they experienced that adversity. There is always some level of change. Once again, it’s their ability to continually get the job done, sometimes in a different way.

Injured athletes for example find a way to recreate their game and athletes as they get older in their sport, they find a way to redefine themselves to rely not so much on their pace and speed but on their great ability to read the play and the opposition. They still find ways to get the job done.

One of the really important concepts that we spoke about was looking at you as a coach and looking at are you either enabling or disabling resiliency? Are you either enabling it to happen or disabling for it to happen? People, as human beings are naturally resilient, we wouldn’t be here if we weren’t. If you think about the animal world, the most resilient animals have an ability to thrive in any environment. Some animals are really non-resilient and only survive on one particular food source or one particular environment.

So as coaches, we need to think about what is the environment we have created for our players? I’ve worked with football teams and professional football teams where when the player comes off the field they’re handed a towel to go and take a shower and once they’re done with that towel it’s thrown away. Someone can wash that towel. The same thing happens for their jerseys and everything else and the meals that they eat and every way that their life is completely structured by someone else. Is that an environment that is going to foster resiliency?

The other key thing that we talk about when we look at resiliency is that it’s a muscle and you have to find a way to exercise that muscle. Just like you would if you were trying to improve the strength of your arms or your quads, whatever it might be, you need to find a way outside of the competitive environment to exercise that muscle so it can be strong when you need it the most.

The fact is, you doing everything for your athletes, providing all their equipment and great facilities, whatever it is, what are they doing for themselves outside of the environment and within it so that they can start to develop and build this muscle?

Because when it comes to game time and competition day, they need to be able to stand on their own. Certain sports require it more so than others. I come from a sport of rowing, and whilst I’m not being biased towards rowing, it’s a sport that if you’re not resilient you simply will not survive. The reason that is is because the coach is not around. For starters they’re on a speedboat or on a bike on the side of the course watching you row. You need to be able to make your own decisions, you need to be able to look after the equipment, and you need to be able to do a lot on your own. As a result of that, some of these qualities are developed. Not because we’re special athletes but just because the environment has meant that we need to have these qualities in place.

So the one point that I want to leave you with is as a coach, think about the environment that you’re creating for your players. Is it one where you’re either enabling or disabling resiliency? Is it one where you’re doing too much for them by trying to help? Think about the degree to which you need to help them stand on their own two feet, you need to help them solve their own problems. That’s an environment which enable resiliency to happen.

If you would like to read similar articles you may enjoy our unique experience learning Mental Toughness from the US Navy Seals, Why Mental Skills are Important in Sport, Mental Skills in Sport: Preparing your Athletes for Success, and Building Personal and Performance Character.

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