Mastering Discouragement and Disappointment

By Dr. Alan Goldberg//

If you are a serious athlete and have big dreams to go far in this sport, then there’s one thing that I can promise you will always be in your future, right between you and those big dreams: FAILURE.


That’s right, failure, along with its emotional co-pilots, frustration and disappointment.
What do I mean by this? The road that you must follow to finally reach your BIG swimming goals will frequently pass through this unpleasant experience with all its uncomfortable emotions. There is really no other way to go from today to your dreams without any number of disappointing setbacks.

Most swimmers may understand this intellectually. They may know that failures ultimately make us stronger and serve as motivational fuel to get us working even harder. They may even get that within every setback you have, you’ll find valuable information for what you did wrong, either before and/or during your race, and therefore what you need to change to be more successful. In this way, each disappointing race you have, has within it, the seeds to faster swims.

The problem, however, is that far too many swimmers get emotionally hijacked by their frustration, discouragement and disappointment that always come with a bad meet. 

You know the drill: You work hard all season, putting your heart and soul into your training, not to mention your blood, sweat and tears. You go to your taper meet with great excitement and expectations, and then your times are mediocre at best. The resultant frustration and disappointment become overwhelming and you forget that these periodic setbacks and tough losses are a natural part of your journey.

Instead, you start bumming BIG TIME and begin to emotionally beat yourself up. You tell yourself your season was a complete failure, and that you wasted all that great training. You totally lose your perspective and believe that everyone else had a great meet and only you swam like crap, and therefore, you must suck. This self-attacking, emotional response to your failure and disappointment only feeds your discouragement, kills your motivation and does a serious number on your self-confidence! But most important, by beating yourself up and getting mired in your disappointment and self-directed anger, you are temporarily blinded to the real opportunity that this setback can offer you to improve as a swimmer!

Successful athletes in and out of the pool respond to their disappointing meets and failures like you! They get bummed and feel the disappointment. They aren’t happy with the poor showing. However, they quickly put aside these emotions and get curious. They ask themselves, “What did I do that didn’t work?” and “What do I need to do differently next time?” In this way, they use their failures to help them maintain a “growth headset.” To a champion, failures are mainly opportunities to get valuable feedback, learn about their mistakes and take another positive step forward as an athlete towards their goals.

This is the mindset that you must adopt in relation to those disappointing taper meets! It’s OK to be upset and bummed. However, very quickly you must put the frustration and disappointment aside and start looking for the things that you did wrong and what you need to do differently for next time.


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