Bouncing back from disappointment is challenging for anyone, let alone those with the weight of the nation on their shoulders. But we can learn a thing or two from our England football players, says Dave Keeling. In fact, we should look to them when we’re facing disappointment of our own.
Like the majority of the nation after the European Cup Final, I awoke feeling forlorn, emotionally bruised and a little bit tacky around the mouth (I shouldn’t have had that 8th drink).
But most of all, I felt deeply upset for the three players who’d had the courage to step forward and take a penalty. Players who, in the cauldron of emotion, didn’t get it quite right on the night. Personally, I sometimes struggle to put my socks on in the morning, without the added expectation of a nation on my shoulders.
Nobody will feel more upset, frustrated and downhearted than those players. Despite the fact that all armchair critics will feel duty-bound to give their knee-jerk rhetoric to anyone who’ll listen.
But what’s next for this team that’s given so much? A team who seemingly left the tournament with nothing but the anger, bile and hatred of the emotionally-bankrupt few?
This is the bit that truly fascinates me - and continues to inspire me about the lessons sport can teach us.
How do you bounce back from such abject disappointment? How do you lift your head and keep up the motivation to train? How do you continually develop yourself? To learn, improve and seek out bigger challenges in the face of all that’s said, written and done regarding your role?
If it feels like a bit of a ballache, here’s a toolkit to help you.
It starts, simply, with the capacity to create time and space for reflection. We all live in a fast-paced world where the majority are time poor, never stopping long enough to ask questions such as:
Questions not only deepen our understanding of who we are and how we feel, but also allow us to incrementally improve our daily outcomes.
Athletes have a growth mindset approach to their work. At St. George’s Park, they’ll take time to work through, look back on and cogitate over the final. Further strengthening the camaraderie, resolve and talent that’s clearly been on show these past few weeks.
But what can we learn from this experience? Well for starters, people in sport seek out challenges rather than procrastinate. Obstacles are something to overcome, not avoid - penalties being a classic case in point.
To achieve anything involves effort, and effort is the path to mastery. Feedback is an important way to discover areas for development and the success of others should not be ignored, but valued and learned from.
This attitude to learning creates an adaptive, open approach to ideas, which in turn leads to higher levels of achievement.
Resilience isn’t something we just have. It’s something we have to build. The approaches above enable all of us to bounce back quickly and positively, especially when things haven’t gone our way. To have a system of thinking that allows us to process what’s happened and extract the positives.
Below are some starter questions that are useful in enabling self-reflection or encouraging reflection in others, no matter the environment. Be it in the office, classroom or on and off the pitch:
According to Edward De Bono, there are three things that get in the way of thinking:
Having some useful questions or a system for thinking is incredibly important in terms of providing a structure (such as the metacognition cycle below) for timeouts that allow for, and promote, reflection.
Creating time and space to stop, think, evaluate and then act is intrinsic to our health, wealth and wellbeing. A sense of value and purpose, above and beyond the daily grind, will motivate you to push on. Even when things get tough.
I don’t know why you get up every morning. I don’t know why you do what you do.
I don’t need to, you do.
Marcus Rashford knows why he gets up every morning. Jadon Sancho knows why he gets up every morning. Bukayo Saka knows why he gets up every morning.
For these three footballers, Monday morning must have been one of the toughest days to get out of bed. But they did it anyway. Like all great athletes, the desire to learn, improve and right the wrongs far outweighs ignorant chatter. Chatter from people who could benefit the most from reflecting and thinking before they act.
So there you have it:
The psychological toolkit that athletes build and maintain to continue pushing boundaries and defying expectations. And, more importantly, to find the courage to push on in the face of adversity.
Regardless of our background, sex, gender, ethnicity, job or age, we could all benefit
greatly by reflecting more on our own relationship to the toolkit mentioned above.
All we have to do to start is create a little bit of extra time... as long as it’s not followed by penalties.