What you put out is what you get back: The Boomerang Effect
Successful elite athletes are masters of dealing with adversity, challenges and obstacles – otherwise they wouldn’t be the best.
rom 25 years of experience working with the ‘best of the best’ athletes, not only do they wholeheartedly accept adversity but welcome it into in their lives. This offers them the very opportunity to challenge themselves to truly become their best.
What is adversity?
A simple dictionary definition for adversity is a difficult or unpleasant situation.
Adversity means a variety of things and presents itself in a myriad of ways. Every sport has its version of adversity to deal with. For example, in any football code, the 3-month pre-season is gruelling and gut-wrenching. Similarly, a 12 week pre-fight training regime is physically, mentally, emotionally and spiritually exacting. If the preparation is not sufficiently challenging, the ensuing battle will not end favourably.
Professional golfers on the US PGA tour compete for over 30 weeks each year and practise long hours for the remainder of the year to fine-tune their technique and skill set. For example, Tiger Woods in his heyday would practice from dawn to dusk 6-7 days a week (60-70 hours) to not only hone his game, but improve his mental toughness. Tigers’ father, Earl, intentionally agitated and frustrated his son during his practice sessions. Earl’s well-documented persistent antics provided Tiger with the opportunity to mentally endure unpleasant situations. Thus, simulating adverse situations helped create the great golfer that Tiger became, leading him to brazenly state “I am the toughest golfer mentally”.
Tennis luminaries such as Federer, Nadal and Djokovic are known for their assiduous physical and mental preparation for the ATP tour. Torturous and punishing sessions in preparation for competition guarantee physical and mental grit. Arduous and difficult training mimics adversity. The reasoning is simple: the more an athlete practices facing and overcoming adversity, the better the athlete deals with the pressures effortlessly and calmly.
Further examples of differing types of adversity come in sports where weight categories must be met such as wrestling, boxing, weight lifting, judo and MMA, in which extreme dieting is part and parcel of competing. The right mind game is crucial in overcoming this inevitable challenge. Being able to fully accept, adapt and achieve the desired weight by using a strong mind game considerably assists the athlete in their quest.
The most common form of adversity in sport is recurring and niggling injuries. With lengthy seasons between 25-40 weeks in local sports such as AFL, A-League, NRL, Super Rugby and overseas in the NBA, EPL, NHL, injured athletes back up week after week, often without being adequately rehabilitated. Commonly, these athletes deal with the adversity of incessant physical discomfort and the frustration and disappointment of injuries limiting their capacity to play or perform at their best.
All professional sports have to endure the relentless mainstream media and invasive social media. The intrusive and sometimes insidious 24/7 prying eyes of probing public scrutiny, all impact on the mental state and wellbeing of the 21 st century elite athlete.
Competition, the battle itself, is obviously challenging. Against the clock, a fired up opposition, a passionate and committed opponent, a fastidious referee or judge, demanding weather conditions, dangerous surfaces, even life threatening competitive situations are exceptionally difficult and unavoidably confronting!
The above points succinctly outline some of the examples and versions of adversity that athletes must get accustomed to dealing with. By and large, any reputable competition in sport is fraught with constant difficulties and arduous challenges. Essentially, the whole elite experience is filled with adversity. The two are inextricable!
As adversity wears many masks and is continually changing, it requires a variety of responses, strategies and interventions. In researching the area, it became evident that there is a gap in the literature. No comprehensive mind program existed. To address this gap, the Boomerang Effect, a systematic and holistic mind game system was developed. This framework noted in diagram 1. provides a guide for athletes to effectively and consistently address the full gamut of mind challenges, including adversity, in the best possible manner.
The work is a synthesis of Western positive psychology and Eastern concepts such as Zen. It recognises the importance of an athlete viewing themselves holistically and comprehensively. The Boomerang Effect proposes the best way to address adversity is:
- Win, lose or draw, vigilantly endeavour to see the positive in every situation
- Always strive for growth and improvement
- Be totally driven to excel technically, tactically, strategically, physically and psychologically
- Never lose faith
- Never doubt or question yourself
- Be unperturbed by adversity, rather invigorated by its presence
Indeed, this view may be idealistic, even utopian, but the ‘best of the best’ athletes aspire high and are wildly optimistic especially in the face of challenges. This is what makes them great.
From the research, personal experience and decades working with athletes and coaches, the Boomerang Effect assumes the following about adversity:
- It provides lessons and tests.
- It is a teacher, a guiding light for athletes to achieve their ultimate best.
- The greater the adversity, the greater the lesson, the greater the benefit and opportunity to exponentially grow.
Whilst this may be simple to understand, these assumptions are exceptionally difficult to action, implement and habitualise. In other words, it’s easier said than done! For example, every elite athlete knows the importance of keeping their ‘head in the game’, remaining focused and positive in order to achieve success. However, many athletes haven’t mastered a consistent process to train, focus and respond with positivity. Positivity is the cornerstone of achievement and facilitates consistent and beneficial consequences and directly contributes to a person’s resilience and grit.
The Boomerang Effect Positivity Model:
The subsequent core positivity strategies become athletes ‘go to’ when faced with adversity.
Golden rule: Words, thoughts and actions always positive. Work towards wide-ranging positivity. Practising positive responses to adversity allows these challenges to feel small and insignificant.
Boomerang Effect: What you put out is what you get back. If an athlete perceives adversity as a teacher then the up-shot is growth, development and success. On the other hand, if the adversity is perceived as catastrophic, unbearable and unacceptable, then this makes a challenging moment far worse.
Best choice: Help or hinder. The most important question to ask is: Will catastrophizing or over focusing on a mistake help or hinder? The key is realising that in every moment before, during and after competition you have a ‘help or hinder’ choice at your disposal.
Mindfulness aims to focus in the present moment, by controlling your attention on a chosen focus and letting go of unwanted distractions and negative thoughts.
Positivity is a great foundation and can be augmented with numerous Eastern strategies. From an Eastern Zen perspective of impermanence, adversity, like all things, is ever-changing. In response to perennial change, athletes must become mindful, accepting, flowing and adaptable.
Developing mindfulness practice is essential for any elite athlete. Mindfulness aims to focus in the present moment, by controlling your attention on a chosen focus and letting go of unwanted distractions and negative thoughts. Being present and mindful in each moment allows athletes to quickly accept each situation they face. Acceptance enables athletes to effectively address each adversity rather than get frustrated. Not accepting a mistake, a referee’s poor decision or judges score creates negative thoughts and angry emotions which can lead to a downward spiral.
Commonly, athletes ask ‘why me’ when adversity strikes. Accepting and reframing the question to ‘why not me’ and ‘this makes me stronger’ facilitates an attitudinal shift that leads to viewing challenges with ‘positive eyes’. Becoming more mindful, accepting and positive facilitates optimal performance.
10 Boomerang Effect adversity strategies:
- Negativity is the enemy and must be minimised, if not eradicated at all costs.
- Identify and aim to repeat your Best Self in mind, body, emotion and spirit.
- You are limitless. Let go of self-limiting thoughts and beliefs.
- To know yourself is imperative to do anything well. Your answers lie within.
- Journaling helps you examine the best ways to deal with hurdles.
- Develop ways to better manage your emotions and reactions.
- Regularly remind yourself of what you love about your sport.
- Longevity in sport requires a balanced lifestyle.
- Humour, laughter and joy are the elixirs of life and lead to exceptional sports performance.
- Practice thanks, appreciation and gratitude for your challenges.
Each of these strategies fit together like a jigsaw, not only to assist the athlete to address challenges and adversity but to develop a strong, resilient mind game to successfully compete on the world stage.
Adversity is the very reason great athletes are great. When athletes graciously accept adversity into their lives, this is a clear indication they truly know and appreciate that they can overcome challenges, bounce back and consequently are ready to flourish at the next level of their sport. This recognition facilitates growth and perennial evolution.
The power of combining multiple Boomerang Effect strategies like positivity, best self, mindfulness and acceptance, empowers athletes to quash all types of adversity and grow strong, resilient and mentally tough when facing competitive and every day challenges. For elite athletes, embracing adversity is the gateway to becoming their limitless best self!
John Novak (BA; MA; LLB; Dip. Counselling)
John has over 30 years’ experience in the areas of sport, wellbeing and motivation. John is a speaker, writer, television/ radio/video presenter, sports manager and mind coach for Commonwealth, Olympic, professional athletes and teams in over 20 sports. Currently he is the Head of Mind Management for Canterbury Bulldogs. In 2011, he helped secure the NRL premiership for Manly Sea Eagles. With several karate schools and a 3rd Dan Black Belt, he has won numerous State and National Karate and Kickboxing tournaments.
Theresa Novak (BA App. Sci.
Occupational Therapy; Dip.
With two decades
of experience working in the areas of fitness, wellbeing, life coaching and positive mental health, she has extensive experience in individual interventions, group work, staff management,
education and training. She has headed up research teams, published on sensory interventions in mental health and is currently
researching the Boomerang
Effect Program in schools. She is passionate about promoting
positive mental health, wellbeing, resilience and teaching the tools to
flourish in the 21st Century.
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