Resilience: How to Bounce Back

Key Thought: You must learn how to bounce back after “failure.”

Every single athlete will get knocked down, ridiculed, yelled at, criticized, made fun of, cut, told not to come back, injured, hurt, challenged, bruised and beaten. Every. Single. One. No player is exempt. No one ever gets a bye week from adversity. 


It is in the moments of rejection, defeat, and set backs that players can go from good to great. How a young athlete handles rejection sets him on the course for failure or puts her on the road to success. As in the character quality of resolve, the only person who can choose to become resilient is the person who faces adversity. 

To be a great athlete, one must develop 5 Essential Character Traits for Athletes. They must train themselves to have resolve, resilience, courage, grit and faith. Football players like the future Hall of Fame tight end, Jason Witten, will be one of the best the NFL has ever seen not only because his stats are remarkable, but also because his character was equally exemplary (you can read what his former teammates said about him here).

What does it mean to be resilient? How does one develop it?

Resilience is the ability to bounce back from rejection, defeat, adversity and set backs. It is the when a player withstands and recovers from difficult situations. It is the ability to handle perceived failure positively. 


The fascinating thing about sport is that there is only one winner. Therefore, embedded in the very nature of playing a game is the realistic possibility of losing. How one thinks thinks and processes that event will determine how they do in the next athletic endeavor. But even more so, one will begin to create a mental narrative in their mind which may or may not be healthy. So when the difficult and painful situation happens, what will you tell yourself? How you interpret that experience makes a big difference in your future. 

So to develop resilience you must train your mind to think rightly about adversity, ridicule, or defeat. 

When defeat and set backs occur, here are 3 truths with which you must discipline your mind.

One: My value as a person is not based on my performance. 

I need remind myself that I am created in God’s image and I have inherent dignity regardless if I fumble the ball or score a touchdown. What people say about me and my athletic performance, positive or negative, does not define who I am. I can’t always believe the great press reports and I can’t always believe the critical voice directed at me. I am who God says I am.God says I am wonderfully made.  Others may affirm that, but I can’t believe those that don’t.

Two: Failure is only failure if I give up. 

While I may have failed, I’m am not a failure. Athletes need to see dropped passes and missed shots as the way to learn. The so-called failures are just perceived failures if a player commits to learn from them. I must discipline my mind to define defeat as an opportunity to grow in character. Therefore, I’m not an idiot, a fool, a screw up or whatever else you or someone else may call you.

Third: I must trust that God is sovereign.

Resilience builds when an athlete believes that God is in control of all things. This is an act of faith. It is a mystery. There are many things in life we don’t fully understand but accept. God’s sovereignty is one of those things. But for the athlete who trusts this reality, it frees them to leave the results up to God. Somehow God oversees the falls, the injuries, the losses, the bad refs, the critical coaches, the angry athletes, the chokes, the wins, the tournament brackets, and every other part of sport. And since God is sovereign, I can focus on training faithfully and playing hard. After all, Christians experience the truth that “all things work together for good.” This can be your experience as well.

So when the next opportunity arises, ask your athlete,

“In what part of your sports life do you need to develop resilience?”

Jenna’s Story of Resilience

SONY DSCOur family has a practice gymnastics bar in our home. My 8-year old daughter uses it often because she that is her favorite event in gymnastics. She had her first meet coming up so she practiced with us watching. Up to this point, she had never fallen. Yet while she was performing one of moves, she lost her balance and fell off the bar onto the mat. Even though she didn’t get hurt, she became very scared. She cried and ran to her mother for comfort. 

After several minutes, she was able to calm down. The tears stopped and she composed herself. At that point I said to her, “Sweetie, now it’s time to do something very important.” I reached out my hand to her and said, “It’s time to get back on the bar.”

That was the crucial moment for character. Did she get back on the bar and build resilience into her heart? Or did she give up, walk away from the bar, and begin to tell herself that she couldn’t do it?

The picture below gives the answer.



To watch an excellent Stephen Curry commercial about resilience, click here.

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