article by Taylor Thomas
Failure is a part of life. A part that can be both heartbreaking and extremely valuable for growth. Learning to process, cope and accept failure is important for everyone, but especially athletes, as they’re constantly presented with opportunities that could result in failure. Whether it’s a race, specific workout, nutrition, or a host of other things, failure is always ever-present. Many athletes struggle desperately to find ways to cope with this reality, and often the fear of letdown can manifest itself in crippling ways. Be it poor performance, excuses, or never realizing your full potential, developing the tools for a strong mental game is important above all else for athletic success. Every great race, workout, and accomplishment begins with an athlete’s mental commitment.
Why Are You Afraid to Fail?
First and foremost, ask yourself this, “What makes me afraid of failure?”. The answer to this question, if you’re honest, can reveal both the root cause of your fear, as well as be the first step in getting over it. Athletes put in countless hours training, preparing, and focusing on achieving often very lofty goals. This level of commitment takes not only buy-in from the athlete but also from that individual’s family, friends, and surrounding support network. With so much physical, mental and emotional energy invested it can very often add undue pressure or weight to what’s supposed to be a pursuit of passion. So often this is where the fear stems from. The fear of letting down not only yourself, but friends, family, coaches, and anyone who has a vested interest in your success. This can manifest in a variety of different ways from a performance perspective. It can be a poor attitude, missed workouts, damaging eating habits, or ever evolving excuses related to less than ideal performance. Have you ever exhibited any of these traits, and could they be linked to a more deeply rooted fear of failure? Uncovering the root cause of negative habits is paramount in an athlete’s ability to move forward and achieve their goals.
What’s Gotten in Your Way Before?
Our past experiences can be some of the best tools for informing how we handle future challenges. Look to the past for examples of things that may have interrupted your progress, or kept you from your full potential. Think critically and honestly about these challenges to inform in advance how you’ll handle issues when they inevitably present themselves in the future. Identifying what specific traits are supporting these negative habits and allowing them to perpetuate themselves is incredibly important. This takes a level of self-awareness and honesty that many athletes struggle with, but once these traits are identified you can actually move forward. Self-sabotage is a common occurrence with athletes at all levels. This form of sabotage so often manifests itself in the form of illegitimate excuses, missed workouts, poor performance, or not showing up for race day. Sometimes it feels easier to get in our own way than to face the fact that failure is a real possibility. Creating roadblocks for ourselves is an “easy” out so that we don’t have to face the potential for failure. Be willing to make peace with failure. Very few things in life are guaranteed, so accepting the possibility of failure can remove some of the pressure we put on ourselves and allow us to focus on productive routes forward.
Tools for Mental Health
Everyone needs to build an arsenal of practices and approaches to help guide their positive mental attitude. Fear and doubt are natural struggles that we all deal with, but it’s how you overcome them that’s important. Positive self-talk is always a good place to start. Negative thoughts creep in when you allow them to. Positive verbal affirmation helps solidify positive thinking and in turn, can lead to positive performance. Specific to athletic performance ensure that your training approach is appropriate for your ability level, goals, and schedule. Tackling workouts that are too difficult, not timed properly, or that don’t take other responsibilities into consideration can quickly dig a deep hole. Maintaining a positive mindset going into training blocks and key workouts goes a very long way towards impacting other parts of your life. We’re only as good as the people that we surround ourselves with. A strong support group is critical to any level of success and longevity in endurance sports. Supportive friends, training partners, and coaches can be the difference between a healthy and unhealthy athlete. Don’t think you’re alone in these struggles. Look to people you admire like other athletes, thought leaders in sport and business, and anyone else to learn how they handle adversity. Finding perspective through your own network, and the available information on others only helps to further solidify positive and productive thinking.
Facing failure is hard. It’s a challenge that athletes and non-athletes alike struggle with on a daily basis. The pressure to perform can be a motivating tool, but if not cultivated properly it can easily turn into a debilitating fear of failure. Use your own experiences to become mentally stronger and set up opportunities for success. Surround yourself with positive and supportive people that believe in you and your direction. Mental health starts and ends with your ability to change how you approach challenges and setbacks, and use them to propel your forward and not hold you back.
Taylor Thomas is the founder and head coach of TEC. He’s a dedicated endurance athlete with over a decade of experience as a competitive cyclist. He’s been involved in all facets of the sport, from working professionally with top brands like Trek and Specialized, founding race teams, organizing events, and personally competing at all levels. His racing background includes road, cyclocross, triathlon and ultra endurance events that push both the mind and body to the limit.
As a USAC certified and Training Peaks level 2 coach he enjoys sharing what he’s learned with his athletes to help them achieve their goals. As a professional mountain biker and coach he’s intimately aquatinted with what it takes to be successful at any level. He knows what it’s like to balance family, work, life, and training. Taylor works closely with all of his athletes to ensure that the training they receive is designed to fit into their life.
Data is very powerful! Whether it’s TrainingPeaks, WKO4, or others, he uses a variety of tools to analyze each athlete’s progress individually. By understanding the data, and knowing how to apply it, every athlete receives a truly individualized approach to their training. These insights are also applied to writing customized workouts, training blocks and developing comprehensive race strategies for every athlete. Coach Taylor believes that understanding the science of coaching is vital in helping athletes of all levels achieve their goals.
You must be logged in to post a comment.