How to Recover From a Poor Performance

Volleyball game

Moving Past an Off Day

Have you had an athletic performance that was so horrible that you felt embarrassed when the competition ended?

Bad games are one thing. You can often explain them away or at least understand that all athletes have an off day.

Despite having a bad day, you still have your confidence intact and feel motivated to work on weaker parts of your game in upcoming practice sessions.

However, if you compete long enough in sports, you will most likely have a competition where nothing goes right.

You will make uncharacteristic mistakes, experience unusual lapses in concentration, miss easy opportunities, and post an awful stat line.

For example, Boston Celtic Jayson Tatum missed 23 shots and had three turnovers in a 2021 game against the New York Knicks…Chicago Cubs pitcher gave up six homeruns in a 2022 game against the New York Yankees…At the 2021 National Bank Open, Aryna Sabalenka double-faulted 18 times in one match.

Awful, subpar performances tend to stick with some athletes. The negative images of failure and embarrassment can be challenging to shake.

You don’t want to be around anything that reminds you of the dreaded experience, including your teammates and practice facility.

Nonetheless, the quicker you can put the game behind you, the better you will be mentally prepared for the next game.

Therefore, you should process your intense negative post-game emotions, so there is no spill-over effect to the next game or competition.

The key is to avoid ruminating about HOW the mistakes happen and objectively process WHY events unfolded as they did.

This thought-clearing exercise will prevent unproductive images from rearing their heads at inopportune times.

When you have a more precise grasp of past performance circumstances, you can shift gears and focus on preparing for your next competition.

In a 2023 NFC wildcard game, Dallas Cowboys kicker Brett Maher became the first player in NFL history to miss four extra-point attempts in one game.

Despite the missed attempts, the Cowboys won, making it crucial for Maher to recover and prepare for the next playoff game mentally.

Dallas special teams coach John Fassel commented on the importance for Maher to deal with the emotions, then pour his focus into practice and preparation.

FASSEL: “He’s probably going to be mentally hurting pretty bad until he can kind of sweat and kick again. There’s no medicine like being back on the practice field.”

Maher realizes that a “four-miss” game is an anomaly, not a trend, and he just needs to maintain his next game/ next kick approach to regain his peak form.

MAHER: “Get back at it. Hit some balls, have a great week of practice, get myself ready to go.”

Bouncing back after an awful game requires you first to process what happened, switch gears, and focus on preparation.

Processing the competition is the first step needed to move forward.

Did you have any extraneous circumstances occurring, such as injury, sickness, bad weather, or unusual competition conditions?

Were you implementing a newly rehearsed technique? Was your preparation or training inadequate? What mental factors contributed to your performance? 

What impact did your emotions play on your level of performance? How can I prepare for or overcome these circumstances in the future?

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