The Ability to Deal with Adversity

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Adversity means a difficult or unpleasant situation, I am going to write this blog about  being positive and not negative when facing an adverse situation.
Growing up was a process that happened very quickly for me with not a lot of notice. There I was, a very young boy in a world of full time professional athletes, traveling around the the world and exploring some very hard training enviroments in the likes of China! At about the age of 10, I was told by the performance director of British Table Tennis,
” You must have a old head on young shoulders, if you want to achieve great things”.
That very sentence is a series of words which I firmly agree with and have stuck with me forever. Why is this relevant in table tennis?
Around the UK – week in, week out – there are competitions being played in sports halls with hundreds of children all with a common denominator. They want to be successful and if possible the best! As I have attended these events and looked around numerous 2 stars and 4 stars, the one compelling thing for me is the difference in one childs characteristics to another, often the same age. Almost without a doubt the players who display the most mature mentality are the players we look upon as “winners”.

Positive Mental Attributes

  • Ability to absorb information (being very receptive)
  • Ability to change tactics and game plan when the going gets tough
  • Positivity
  • Enjoyment
  • Self-encouragement
  • Self-evaluative
  • Displaying a ‘Growth Mindset’
  • Calm in pressure situations
  • Self belief
These are all positive characteristics “winners” have in common. As coaches we must try to install as many of these attributes into our players as early in their playing careers as possible. However these players may also display extreme anger or negative behavior in certain situations. Anger shows competitiveness and a desire to win. This must be balanced – knowing where the line is and not allowing it to effect the next point. They must be ready, calm focused ready to play the next point.
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Old Head – Young Shoulders

Dealing with adversity and having a growth mindset work hand in hand. Maturity enables us to cope with defeats and use losses as a positive to improve a skill for next time. Maturity also enables us to, when facing a deficit, keep composed and think clearly in order to regain parity. How many times do we see a child giving up and giving off a ‘ I cant do attitude’? Instead of thinking ahead taking away pointers to get better and fine tweaking or learning a new skill in the practice hall. Preparation is again a sign of a mature player who has every opportunity.
“FAIL TO PREPARE,PREPARE TO FAIL.”
The sooner a player can deal with challenging situations, the easier life will be and equally the better they will perform. If a player is able to get the balance right between wanting to win and understanding that a defeat will aid their development, the pressure on oneself is far less than a player who only cares about winning and can’t see past that.
gav coaching tom
I recently saw a very interesting backronym:
FAIL means:
  • First
  • Attempt
  • In
  • Learning
This, I thought was very relevant to this blog and a great example of a growth mindset if you apply this to your learning outlook.
Winning a table tennis match is of course very important and extremely rewarding, however when you lose it is an opportunity to go back to the training hall and get it right. The great Jan Ove Waldner was onced asked why he was so good, his response was quite genius;
“I learnt to lose”.

This is quite ironic considering most of us seldom saw the Mozart of table tennis lose.
My performance director was right and this hopefully has explained what he meant when he said,

“You must have a old head on young shoulders, if you want to achieve great things”.
There is always a positive to every sporting situation with a growth mindset, and we must always remember this!
Thank you for reading.
Gavin Evans
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