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Coping with Setbacks: Resilience Strategies for Endurance Athletes

Coping with Setbacks: Resilience Strategies for Endurance Athletes Joanne Bullard Run Tri Bike

Even with the best-laid plans, setbacks, injuries, and disappointments are inevitable in the life of an athlete. Setbacks are not usually welcome by athletes, but setbacks can often offer athletes amazing learning experiences to help them develop and grow as athletes.  Coping with setbacks and maintaining a resilient mindset can be challenging, especially during difficult times.  Through incorporating a mindfulness approach, athletes can develop their resiliency.

Here are suggested strategies to help athletes turn their setbacks into growth opportunities.

Acknowledge The Setback

The first step in overcoming any setback is acknowledging the situation and accepting that it occurred.  Whether it’s a mistake, poor performance, or injury, it is necessary to recognize that it occurred. This is a mindful approach to incorporate. Acknowledgment and acceptance will help the athlete self-regulate and implement appropriate strategies to help them in coping with their setback.

Learn From The Setback

When setbacks occur, athletes might notice an expected flood of emotions. However, when emotions are high, thinking objectively can be challenging. The athlete needs to allow themselves to experience their feelings, and after their emotions subside, it’s the perfect time to learn. Analyze what went wrong and identify areas for improvement. Understanding the setback’s cause can help you adjust for future performance. 

Revisit Goals

After a setback, it is essential to revisit goals. Sometimes, goals need to be adjusted to become more realistic and achievable, and other times, they might stay the same. The most important element is to make sure that the goals are process-oriented instead of only focusing on the outcome. Achieving these smaller goals can boost your confidence and motivation.


Embrace The Process

Training for an endurance event is a long-term commitment. Embrace the mindset of gradual improvement over time. Remember—small gains lead to significant growth! The lessons learned from setbacks help athletes develop character, grit, and resilience. Trust the process and stay consistent with your training and recovery.

Maintain A Positive Attitude

Maintaining a positive attitude can sometimes be easier said than done, but it is a huge element when overcoming setbacks. Incorporating positive self-talk strategies and affirmations can help shift the mindset when feeling defeated. Celebrating small victories is also an essential aspect when dealing with setbacks.  Also, remember the importance of acknowledging what is controllable in situations. Often, setbacks are caused by elements entirely outside an athlete’s control. 

Connect With The Community

Some athletes may feel isolated when they experience setbacks. What’s important to remember is that the endurance athlete community is supportive! Stay connected with your coaches, training group, and athletes. Try not to be afraid to share your experiences with others. Many times, other athletes have had similar experiences and can share their journey, offering strategies and advice. Athletes coping with setbacks should remember that they’re not alone in their journey!

A critical component of any endurance athlete’s training is incorporating mental skills training proactively. Learning to become self-aware will assist in self-regulation throughout training, especially when times get challenging. Embracing a mindful approach while incorporating skills such as meditation and visualization provides the foundation for an athlete.

Setbacks, injuries, and disappointments are inevitable in the world of sports.  It’s important to recognize that experiencing a setback does not mean an athlete’s journey is always derailed.  By acknowledging the setback, learning from it, revisiting goals, embracing the process, maintaining a positive attitude, and staying connected with their community, athletes can use these setbacks as an opportunity for growth and development.  Keep pushing forward, and remember to always trust in the process!


Dr JoAnne Bullard Run Tri Bike Magazine Doctor of Sport and Performance Psychology

JoAnne Bullard is a Doctor of Sport and Performance Psychology and a Certified Mental Performance Consultant through the Association for Applied Sport Psychology. She is also a Certified Strength and Conditioning Specialist through the National Strength and Conditioning Association.

She serves as a tenured Associate Professor at Rowan University and is the owner of Absolute Fitness, LLC.  Her goal is to provide a holistically applied approach for clients through performance psychology consulting. She has experience working with athletes of all ages, including endurance athletes, in individual and group sessions.  Her research areas include mindfulness, performance anxiety, goal setting, coping strategies, and mental well-being of athletes.

She has completed five marathons, numerous half-marathons, and is always looking for her next race.