Monday, September 15, 2008

The Bounce Back- An Athletes Ability to Overcome Adversity & What it Means to Employers

Eight seconds remain on the clock. Time for one final shot, Joe Craddock (quarterback MTSU) drops back & heaves forward a dream a spiraling miracle to be. The ball is tipped batted around & finally reeled in by Eldred King (receiver MTSU).
(This is not just the culmination of a play, a game or even a weeks practice; this is the opportunity you live for as a competitive athlete. The time when challenge taps you on the shoulder & you must turnaround to answer the call).
King turns & squares his shoulders towards destiny he races forward only to be stopped 1- yard short of his goal. Dejected he hangs his head defeated

The scenario played out here didn’t just occur in Saturday’s game (University of Kentucky & Middle Tennessee State). This scenario is played out multiple times in every game. The sum of a game is measured play by play (134.5 plays per game on average over the last 3 years). That’s 134 opportunities with only two possible outcomes 1:win or 2:lose. This puts an athlete in a unique position. The opportunity to immediately right a blown play, to make amends for a loss. A task easier said than done.

The adversity posed here is not simply limited to play for play; it extends to multiple facets of the game. Bouncing back from an injury, being forced to take the reigns early in your career, a devastating team loss, coaching changes. Etc. The mental fortitude to bounce back from adversity reveals the true toughness of an individual & ultimately separates the good from the great. Just three weeks into this football season we are seeing these scenarios take shape. A fallen Tom Brady, forcing the relatively untested Matt Cassel into the drivers seat. The Ohio State Buckeyes regrouping from a major team loss. Vince Young battling with injury & fan disappointment. These players & teams are forced to respond to these scenarios their ability to control negative emotions pick themselves up & carry-on will ultimately determine their success. But how is the Bounce Back formed?

There are two key components of the Bounce Back:

Control Over Negative Emotions:

Athletes have faced negative situations and the impact of these emotions creates stress, fear, and anger. By facing these issues head on, athletes have learned how to control negative emotions and rather than seeing these problems as threatening, they see them as challenging opportunities. By controlling their emotions, athletes make the bounce back.

Overcome Failure and Disappointment:

Athletes have faced difficult situations and disappointment and have had to deal with errors and loss. Athletes have had to handle stress and cope with adversity by dealing with routine setbacks during competition. By living these experiences, evaluating what happened, and putting necessary steps in place to use the energy of the experience to spur them to do better and deal with problem and pressure situations.

Dr. Melissa Clouthier shares a few key ways to handle adversity

1. Keep the problem in context. Are you dead? No? It could be worse then.

2. Don't generalize the problem. For example, a loser's self-talk goes like this, "Oh you did it again! What a complete screw up. Why do you even try? Life isn't fair." You see this line of reasoning? How did you get from a missed putt to life sucks? A pessimist gets there in no time flat.

3. Use positive self-talk. "Okay, that was a mistake. A bad moment. Let's get it back. More follow-through. Keep it lined up. Better. Better." When you hear an athlete say, "We just had a bad day or bad break. Everyone has them, we'll come back tomorrow." You know that team is okay. How you frame the problem in your mind is very important. Overcomers keep it positive.

4. Forget being realistic. Realists don't make bunker shots from 30 feet out in the rocks and brush in one. They don't. Raging optimists do. Every shot is possible. Realism is limited to the current atmosphere. Optimism allows for possibility. Realists hear that there is a "60% chance of dying with this cancer at this stage" and figure that they're dead like the majority. Optimists think about the 40% who overcame. Dying isn't an option.

5. Hang out with optimists. Realists are such a drag. Realists don't build skyscrapers, don't build light bulbs, don't build computers, and don’t innovate. That isn't to say that realists are wrong, they are more right than optimists more of the time. But they miss opportunities. Hang around the dreamers, builders, and influencers. Their can-do spirit is infectious.

These bounce back situations got me thinking about a hiring manager I once worked with; a woman who had rather unique ways of identifying talent & finding under valued candidates with huge upsides. Her unorthodox recruiting practices had created a high performance team a team with the reputation for tackling the tough projects & winning. I met with her on a regular basis to discuss recruiting practices & help in the recruiting process.

I recall one fall afternoon we had met to grab a cup of coffee & review a recent resume I had submitted (a great candidate by all measures, fine school, excellent internships, experience, grades etc.) When I walked in to greet her she simply said not interested. Not interested are you kidding? What more could you be looking for? She looked me in the eye & said I don’t hire 4.0’s. I couldn’t believe what she was saying how could you not move on this candidate. That’s when she enlightened me on her hiring philosophy. She wouldn’t hire 4.0’s; she would not hire someone with a perfect record because they never had experienced loss. She said the risk was to great to have them fail & not know how they would react. The bounce back from failure was one of her key qualifications (presuming we all agree failure is one of life’s inevitabilities). This interesting philosophy got me thinking about the athlete’s journey. An athlete’s journey is not unblemished it is fraught with adversity an athletes journey is built upon loss & resurrection. An athlete’s journey is not limited to the field of play but to life. An athlete’s journey is transferable to the workforce & their ability to bounce back makes them a valuable resource.

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