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Sport Psychologists in London: Resilience in Sport and the Workplace

Sport Psychologists in London

Resilience in Sport and the Workplace

“That which does not kill us makes us stronger. - Friedrich Nietzsche

Let’s start with a fact: Human beings, technology, Mother Nature are not perfect. Consequently, in sport and the workplace, as in life, you can bet that things will go wrong at some point. We will have bad days (along with the good!), matches that go terribly wrong, weeks when the weekend can’t come soon enough, and general slumps in performance. Sometimes, even when we do our very best, there is no guarantee that will be enough. So, what do we do when things go wrong? How do some people seem to rise above and come out the other side better for it? The answer is…RESILIENCE.

What does it Mean to be Resilient?

"Resilience" in psychology is the positive capacity of people to cope with stress and adversity. This coping may result in the individual “bouncing back” to a previous state of normal functioning, or using the experience of exposure to adversity to produce a “steeling effect” and function better than expected. Resilience is a process, not a trait of an individual. It is characterized by the ability to adapt by changing characteristics and situations to suit you.

Let’s look at a recent example in sport: Rory Mcllory, Professional Golfer and recent winner of the US Open Tournament. In winning the US Open, he became the youngest player to do so since 1923, broke the course’s score record by 4 strokes, whilst breaking the record for the most strokes under par for the course with 16. The resilient quality, is that just 2 months earlier at the Master’s Tournament, Rory led the pack by 4 shots going into the final day, where his game collapsed and he ultimately finished 15th.

“In his third Masters appearance, Rory must have understood all the bad stuff that could happen. So many things could go wrong. And sadly, most of them did. Repeatedly.” (Durst, 2011)

Rather than allow the same thing to happen at the US Open, comfortably leading going into the final day, he was able to learn from it, rise above, and perform even better. Rory was resilient.

Looking at the workplace, GlaxoSmithKline (2007) defines resilience as:

"Resilience is the set of skills and behaviours needed to be successful in the midst of a fast-paced and continuously changing work environment. It is the same set of skills that helps prevent work related mental illness."

This quote is particularly salient for the current economic culture of our times. With thousands having been made redundant, thousands looking for jobs, and thousands more in jobs they don’t dare leave in case they can’t find another. How do we keep from allowing the stress to get the better of us? How do we continue to pursue jobs, keep our jobs, stay happy, and perform consistently in the workplace?

How can YOU be more resilient?

Professor M. E. P. Seligman (2011) argues that optimism is the key. He discovered the concept of ‘Learned Helplessness’, that is that human beings after a failure or painful experience will begin to accept their circumstances, give up control, and no longer fight back against them. However, there is a portion of people who do not become helpless, and it appears to be due to the belief that setbacks are temporary not permanent. He now trains the US Army in Comprehensive Soldier Fitness to build resilience. This program is based on the PERMA model, which incorporates the building blocks of resilience and growth.

When it comes to sport, we create a Resilience Model for Sport, which builds on the PERMA model by adding some key components for peak performance.

Importantly, this model begins with awareness. Knowing what our perception or interpretation of ourselves and our situation is.

“Developing awareness is a critical element of peak performance because it provides athletes with the experiential knowledge to gain control of the performance. Awareness is the first step in raising self-control in sports participation.” (Ravissa, 2006)

The key point here is that if you are aware of what you are doing, how you see the world, what strategies you employ, and whether you are optimistic or pessimistic, you CAN change! Awareness can be learned and cultivated simply by asking oneself questions such as those found below (Clarkson, 2001).

How do we Build Resilient Teams & Workplaces?

“A team that discovers the tactics which best suit itself, operates synergistically. Synergy is the energy of the perfectly functioning unit and is an energy that is greater than the sum of that unit’s individual energies. If it is to be drawn on in times of stress, it has to be cultivated in training and aroused before the competition begins.” (Syer & Connolly, 1998).

To cultivate resilience, individuals and the team must be open to change, willing to embrace optimism, and adapt their awareness, thinking, and behaviour. Some strategies for doing this which lead to peak performance & experience and reaching full potential are below:

1. Recognition: Performance review/open discussion

2. Acceptance: Likes and wishes/desensitisation/concentration

3. Co-ordination: Black box/performance practice

4. Integration: Affirmations/focused talk/wise person

5. Synthesis : Ideal model/right time/right place

*adapted from Syer & Connolly (1996)


Next time you experience a setback, a failure, or a painful experience, how will you respond? Will you let it get to you, have doubts, feel out of control? Or will you bounce back, be better than you were, and be truly RESILIENT?


Clarkson, P. (2001). First Edition. Gestalt Counselling In Action. Sage Publications.

Durst, W. (2011). The Best Is Yet to Come for Mcllroy.

Owens, A.J. (2004). Increasing Self-awareness in Cricket: Understanding the Importance of Self-Awareness for the Provision of Psychological Skills Training. Cricket World Magazine.

Ravizza, K. (2006). Increasing awareness for sport performance. In J.M. Williams (Ed.), Applied sport psychology: Personal growth to peak performance (5th ed.). New York: McGraw-Hill.

Seligman, M.E.P. (2011). Building Resilience. Harvard Business Review.

Syer, J. & Connolly, C. (1998). Sporting Body, Sporting Mind: An Athlete’s Guide To Mental Training. Pub: Simon & Schuster, London.

Syer, J. & Connolly, C. (1996). How Teamwork Works: The Dynamics of Effective Team Development. Pub: The McGraw-Hill Companies. London.


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