"Fall seven times, get up eight."
- Japanese Proverb
Triathletes experience a gamut of emotions before, during and after practice and competition ranging from exhilaration and pride to frustration and disappointment. Too often, an athlete personally experiences Murphy's Law: Whatever can go wrong will go wrong at the worst possible moment.
You wake race morning to a thunderstorm, choppy water and slick roads. Setting up transition, you discover you forgot to pack gels plus the handlebar tape is coming unraveled, along with your nerves. Your goggles fog, you flat at mile 17 and a blister on the bottom of your left foot becomes torturous every time your running shoe hits the pavement.
One of the most essential attributes of a mentally tough athlete is resiliency--the ability to bounce back after setbacks. Furthermore, the best athletes bounce back with renewed determination to succeed. The true sign of greatness (whether in sport or real life) is not who you are or what you accomplish when everything is fine, but rather who you are and what you bring forth when something (or everything) goes wrong.
Competitors who respond to adversity more optimistically tend to be more aggressive and take more risks than those who react with pessimism and helplessness. Triathletes who take a positive approach when facing undesirable situations are more apt to maintain the energy, focus and vigor needed to compete successfully or to cross the finish.
The most stressful incidents in life and sport are those that are unexpected and uncontrollable. We have no control over weather, mechanical failures or another competitor's performance. However, we can control our reactions.
Dr. Paul Stolz, author of The Adversity Advantage, suggests that, "Between stimulus and response, there is a space. In that space lies our freedom and power to choose our response. In those choices lie our growth and our happiness."
If you respond with despair, this bears the weight of finality and hopelessness. You destroy any confidence or motivation to embrace the next challenge. If you play the blame game, this results in anger, energy drain and a negative shift in focus.