Resilience – the Update!

Currently, the buzzword in sporting circles is resilience.
Given a run of poor results or performances, at any given time teams need more of it, whilst some of the individuals within the team have gained a lot more of it, some who had lost theirs have got it back, and some can’t seem to find theirs right now.

Individual players too suffer the same ebb and flow. Everywhere we turn, we hear resilience mentioned.

Because we give it a label, like confidence and charisma, it is immediately more tangible. It is – like a commodity – valuable, tradable, marketable. I know there are, as I write, people in the great wide coaching world away from sport currently billing themselves as Resilience Coaches.
Resilience in performance is described as the ability to remain composed, confident and consistent in the face of errors. A resilient player is one who can let go of errors and return to the present moment.
Back in 2004, courtesy of the Saturday morning Sky TV show Soccer AM, the word “bouncebackability was coined and it became a bit of a cult word with sports fans, pundits and players. It took a rather sterile phrase from sports psychology – mental resilience in sport – breathed life into it, injected it with pzazz, and gave this six-syllable, concatenated construction a street cred that almost raised it to being inducted into the linguistic hall of fame called The English Dictionary.
These days, many things to do with the mental side of sport are much more widely mentioned and discussed in the media. Gone is the mystery and we regularly encounter commentators, pundits and players extolling the benefits and virtues of athletes being grounded, of having clarity, of being resilient., of being in a Flow State or in The Zone.
However, as we travel down the players’ spectrum from elite to grass roots we still encounter a lot of the stigma associated with anything tagged with the words mental or psychology. There is still an old-school type of unease and distrust attached to anything referred to as being in the mind rather than in the body.
And it probably goes to the deep-seated fear in our society of being dubbed as a bit of a head case, slightly weird, unhinged, not quite all there, not entirely in control, dysfunctional, having a problem, of being unable to cope, of being ill in the mind, of being – for all intents and purposes – BROKEN.
Our culture, built as it is upon the perfect ideal, can just about put up with broken bodies – but broken minds? Perish the thought. Yet, statistically, we are told that 1 in 4 people in the UK will experience a mental health problem each year.
Bouncing Back
 So how can we get to be resilient in our sport – or indeed in our lives? Can we learn bouncebackability?
The simple answer, of course, is yes.
Why do I say of course? Well, everything starts somewhere and we are not born with an innate understanding of making mistakes and getting over them. We first gain an understanding about making errors and mistakes, of getting things wrong, from our familial culture. Later, as we first go to school, we discover more about errors, corrections and how society and the others around us judge the making of mistakes. This early influence lays a very crucial foundation for our ability to be resilient. And when we are growing up and constantly learning things, this ability is with us every waking moment, and pervades every single thing we do.
This underlines my belief that everything, every action, in our lives is a unique performance, and is borne out by this famous quote by Heraclitus of Ephesus:
“No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it’s not the same river and he is not the same man.”
You could say that we are all of us at the mercy of our early influences, so much so that by the time we are seven we have already been put on the road to becoming either a very resilient performer, a confidence player or a perfectionist, or somewhere in between!
However, although this might presuppose that we cannot get off that ROAD once we have been put on it, we are subject to influence and persuasion all the time. And it is the influences we encounter at any time that can steer us elsewhere and to enable us to perform in a different way, and perhaps a more successful or a more fulfilling way.
Gaining a Foothold on Resilience
Once we know there is another ROAD, that we are not doomed or BROKEN, and that there is such a thing called resilience, we can start to discover more about how we can make our performances more consistent and rewarding, and fuse our love of our sport with the joy and ecstasy of doing it to the very best of our abilities, in the moment.
Gloria Solomon and Andrea Becker (2004) came up with an interesting acronym that described a four step process they developed to help athletes deal with performance errors.

A = Acknowledge the error and the frustration it has caused
R = Review the play and determine how and why the error occurred
S = Strategise a plan to make the necessary corrections for the future
E = Execute and prepare for the next play
Amusingly, they described this as “teaching athletes this sequence will give them a tool for managing the emotional response which comes with making mistakes, and help them to get their ARSE in gear!”
Arseing about

I am coaching an 8 year old at the moment who is very keen on his cricket and has above average talent. I noticed early on that if he perceived some part of our practice as being a performance, a contest, then his behaviour changed. He would hit the ball, make a slight error, fall to the ground whilst saying in a miserable tone of voice how he’d got it wrong, messed it up, and seemed inconsolably upset with himself. He appeared to become a near perfectionist and probably had about 5% resilience.

Without consciously realising it at first, I ran the ARSE strategy and got him back on his feet and ready to play the next ball. I got him to hit 10 balls at a target in this little contest, and after every error he ran his sequence and I ran the ARSE strategy.

Now the interesting thing here was that not only was he learning how to be more resilient, but he was also learning about MY coaching culture, and my approach to helping people get over errors and to getting better. By the time we’d moved on to practicing another cricket skill, he’d grasped the whole idea of how we get better at something by making mistakes and getting it wrong.

Work in Progress
I’ve worked with enough perfectionists and confidence players over the years to know that it is definitely a player’s thinking that gets them into a place of low resilience, and that it is definitely their thinking that is getting in the way of their performance.
The Secret – or this particular version of it – is to liberate them from the NEED to Listen to their own Thinking.
We all have a tendency to hang onto the familiar, and the more familiar we are with Listening to our own Thinking then the more we will hang on to the NEED to do it.
I first used the phrase Work in Progress some years back, with a lad who was inhibited by perfectionism even in practice, let alone in performance. We would be working on some particular skill and his behaviour would change as a result of his (in his eyes) making a mistake – getting it wrong. In a way he resembled my recent 8 year old, in that he struggled with the emotional outpouring initiated by his Inner Judge.
After I explained to him about practice and progress – like that – I watched him listening and nodding, and somewhere inside he made the connection and got his ARSE in gear! Almost at once he stopped beating himself up in practice. Before the next match he was due to play, I talked with him about how we can take our Work in Progress into a contest. He made mistakes – and he dealt with them well. From that moment on he became a resilient player, and he understood resilience even though we never talked about it.
As a Performance Coach who also works as a technical coach, I consider myself lucky to be in a unique position to be able to embed and interweave one discipline within another. As a result I’m able to raise the resilience of grass roots players without having to tell them that we are going to work on some mental skills. Likewise I’m able to influence an eight year old in terms of resilience, knowing that that growing understanding will help him in other parts of his young life.
I was having a casual chat recently with some sporting folk and someone said, “Everyone talks about resilience now. Is that like bouncebackability?” I nodded. “Wish I had it.” He continued, “Wish I could get some of that. Of course it’s only for professionals and those at the very top of the game.”
“What makes you think that?” I asked, quite curious about his perspective.
“Well it wouldn’t work on me would it? It’s all to do with what’s going on in here,” he said, tapping the top of his head.

I leaned forward and looked straight at him,
“How do you know you haven’t already got some resilience?”