Dealing with Defeat & Disappointment

As athletes we are goal oriented. Personal Records. Paces. Times. Places. Finishes.

We certainly love the benefits of being in shape or being able to do what others only talk about. We enjoy the look on their faces as we retell stories of running marathons and such. But, for many of us that is only a fun side-benefit to running. We’re in it to accomplish something. Usually to accomplish something we haven’t done before.

What happens when we train hard, do all the right things and then fall short of our goals? What happens to our sense of purpose; self and general motivation?

Defeat, DNFs (Did Not Finishes – i.e. to drop out) and Disappointment perhaps could be called the “Big 3-D’s.” Anyone who is an athlete has experienced these at one time or another. I know some runners take pride in never DNFing.  However, I will pose that if you have not faced these you haven’t explored your limits yet. Think about it.

Everyone wants to go faster, longer, do better, succeed, win, set records or complete things they never thought they could. I don’t know anyone who goes into something not only knowing but wanting to fall short of a goal. Do you? There are times we may know we aren’t in the best of shape or that we are recovering from an injury and are short on training. But we still go into the event wanting to do our best – for that day. We don’t go in with the goal of failing.

Exploring limits is about putting yourself on the line. You train to the best of your abilities. You practice your pre-race routines. You practice your mental toughness strategies everyday in practice runs. We run time trials to track our progress. We do these things to optimize our opportunities for success.

There are times that despite doing “everything right” that the results don’t show it. In the case of a marathon there are hours of running in which anything can happen. We may never know why we got a cramp that we never had in training. We may not know why we felt sluggish at mile 14 when just weeks ago we flew through that on a goal paced run almost effortlessly. In the case of shorter races – a mile or 5k for instance – the margin for error is small. It only takes one thing to be slightly “off” and you may miss your goal time. We can analyze the heck out of training, paces, miles, tapers, diet, the weather, terrain, pacing, hydration, etc. But, in any case there are many variables that are beyond those things. And some we will never figure out.

We can do many things in training but ultimately it’s what we do on race day. That is why we race. To put it on the line. To test ourselves.

When we put ourselves on the line it means we commit 100% to our goal. We go after it heart, mind and soul. I contend that it is through that commitment that we truly live. That commitment to the training as well as to race day efforts makes up a vital part of our lives. And it reminds me of Theodore Roosevelt’s quote:

Far better is it to dare mighty things, to win glorious triumphs, even though checkered by failure… than to rank with those poor spirits who neither enjoy nor suffer much, because they live in a gray twilight that knows not victory nor defeat.

It’s OK to be disappointed in defeat. But your commitment and zest for life is what it is about. It’s how you are “writing your story.” Every great story has ups and downs. (It would be pretty boring otherwise wouldn’t it?) It’s up to you to write a great story.  And to the real athlete out there – you’ll be back – writing another chapter, putting it on the line once again.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
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One Response to Dealing with Defeat & Disappointment

  1. mizunogirl says:

    When I have had the everything turned out differently than planned even after good training etc. I tend to take a look back and see actually where my training was perhaps not so good, or where I may have made an error on race day. I usually find something that I could tweak, or have done better….like not rearranging my training for a race that I want to do that has nothing to do with the ultimate goal (ugh I did that once, and missed a good training run and it threw everything off). SOOOOO….each defeat brings all sorts of interesting lessons, even as painful as they are.

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