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Success & failure

As athletes, we have a lot of opportunities for success and failure. This can be in training or competition. Allow me to paint a picture, you are lucky to finally start competing (because COVID has decided to calm down). You have managed to hit your squat opener, but unfortunately you’ve failed your last 2 attempts. “This is shit, this sucks!”. It’s unsurprising that these thoughts may automatically go through your head. All those months of training and that effort for what? You may even start blaming yourself, saying that you’re not good enough and never will be. Let me paint another scenario, you have finished a competition and secured 2nd place (Woo! Congratulations!). This is the first time you’ve podiumed in a competition. You then start to think, “This is just a fluke, I was just lucky today because everyone else did badly”. What a way to bring your mood down after such an achievement. The point that I’m making here is the explanations you give to your successes and failures can have a powerful effect on you mentally.

Powerful words


What we say to ourselves has power. How we try to explain our performances has more of an impact on us than we may think. As the saying goes, there is power in the tongue. The explanation we give our performances can impact our emotions. For example, if after a performance failure you are now blaming yourself and even labelling yourself as a failure, then it’s no surprise that your mood will be lower. Similarly, if you are to succeed in a task, but suggest that it is due to things outside of you, such as other people not performing well, then your mood will be lower. Furthermore, if you were to say this to yourself, you wouldn’t exactly feel confident in your abilities would you?


Our explanations can impact our motivation. The reasons you give can either increase or decrease your motivation to perform next time. If you are blaming yourself and saying you failed because you are a failure, can you expect to feel ready to go and train or compete again? Probably, not. You may begin to think, what’s the point of even training when I’m so bad and will remain a failure?


Finally, our performance explanations can have an impact on future performance expectations. If we view our performance as a ‘fluke’ then we’d be less likely to think we can replicate similar results in another competition. Alternatively, if we think we failed because we are failures and we suck, then we would expect future performance to also fail, since we are continuously failures and that isn’t going to change.

Different reasons

There are different types of explanations we can give our performances. The first is whether we believe the performance was due to ourselves or due to something outside of ourselves. For example, “I performed well because I put in the effort” (due to ourselves) vs “I performed well because the other athletes weren’t performing well” (not due to ourselves). The second is whether we performed due to a factor that is controllable or uncontrollable. For example, I won because I used a pre-performance routine (controllable) vs I won because the judges were in a good mood (uncontrollable). Finally, the last type of explanation is how generalisable we believe the factor is. Basically, do you think this is something that always happens or something that is quite rare; do you think it only happens to you or happens to all performers?


  • There are many reasons behind our performances. We need to find the most accurate reasons. An issue we have as humans is not realising that our thoughts about certain events aren’t always accurate. Sometimes we need to sit down and look for the evidence that supports why we performed well or not so well.

  • Look for reasons that will help you grow. This means looking for factors that are controllable and due to yourself. For failure, it can help you work on things within your control to improve yourself; For success, it can allow you to build and maintain factors that help your performance.

If you’re interested in knowing more about the psychology behind performing then make sure to visit There are many resources and tips on the website that can help you address your mindset.

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