Psychological Resilience in Female Athletes

My daughter just had her first tournament back for her AAU team since she broke her leg in March. She played well! Unfortunately, the messages she received from me were the same messages I received as a young athlete – “Where were you” “You didn’t seem to be trying” “You didn’t hustle”… I’m sure your familiar with this serious of messages too the one that shouts at you “be better”. Thankfully I caught myself and apologized to her.

It is crazy how these messages of “do better” still ring in my head regarding everything in life today. The missing link holding all of us back from psychological resilience is the coaching and training on how to overcome the hard things in life.

As an athlete, we learn quick that we have ‘control’ over circumstances and that if we work harder things will go better. The mental battle begins when we give our all but things don’t go “better”. It leads us to think that we ourselves are failures when the truth is – the only thing we have ‘control’ over is our mindset and our choice to choose to stay positive even when things aren’t going as we would like.

That is exactly what we do at Anchored Female – We train athletes both mentally and physically so that they can be the best and most resilient they can be. We celebrate the tough workouts that almost make us puke because we praise our bodies for the work they can do. We learn to accept that we were slower today than we were yesterday and know that it is all part of the process to growth. We learn to love the hard and challenges areas of life and training because we know and accept that it is through the hard and ugly that we learn to shine in strength, joy and resilience.

Today’s article comes from a sports study found in PubMed Central and my own personal experience. Feel free to check out the research yourself if you’re interested.

What Is Psychological Resilience

Psychological resilience is the process of adapting well in the face of adversity, trauma, tragedy, threats, or significant sources of stress

-The American Psychology Association

Psychological resilience is an important construct that can enhance athletic performance and foster valuable life skills. That is the point of sports, correct, to foster life skills of hard work and resilience… By developing psychological resilience athletes learn to use positive adaptations to adversity and stressors in the athletic arena and ultimately develop personal growth.

The problem oftentimes is that the athlete is scolded for poor performance but not usually given the tools to overcome the letdown or disappointment they feel about themselves or the fact they think they let others down. Athletes need both high-stakes physical skill development and also training in overcoming bad games, nerves, fears, insecurities, doubts, and dealing with disappointment.

In young female athletes, developing this resilience is particularly important because females face distinct challenges in many areas of life like friendships, body image, eating disorders, increased mental stress, internalized emotions, and a cycle of hormonal changes. The ‘challenge’ to ‘peace’ ratio is often heavy on the challenge side for most females, and as we’ll learn later, too much challenge creates a decrease in resilience.

Here are just a few more statistics regarding the importance of developing resilience in female athletes (not an exhaustive list):
  1. Body image / disordered eating – 46% of athletes have disordered eating habits because of social and sports expectations. This causes added mental stress, poor nutrition, and therefore, poor performance. Education is key in fixing this. Working with a sports nutritionist can help shed truth on the lies and misconceptions floating around in the social media world regarding nutrition and body image.
  2. Fatigue / poor sleep – A strong relationship between fatigue and psychological stress has been prevalent in female athletes. This leads to an increased risk of mental health struggles, poor decision-making, and an overall lack of clarity and resilience. Within my one-on-one training sessions mental health and identity training is a big focus while we simultaneously work the body.
  3. Injury – The relationship between stress and injury is bidirectional, making resilience a key component to both injury prevention and recovery among young female athletes.

Benefits of Psychological Resilience

Overcoming adversity is crucial for any athlete. When young female athletes can positively adapt to the stressors presented to them in sports or in life they have a better ability to respond to setbacks, obstacles, and failures and transform adversity into opportunity. Here are the other ways that psychological resilience benefits us:

  1. Positive Adaptations – As we all know, we need adversity and hardship for growth. However, extreme stress can overwhelm the capacity for positive adaptations. It is key that we develop positive adaptations. These adaptations are defined as “the developmental process by which individuals attain unusually favorable adjustment patters, given their background available resources” – for example – using their mental toughness, acceptance, optimism and problem solving skills to adaptive positively to any situation. Personally, I’ll be switching away from coaching my daughter in games and more to coaching my daughter on how to tap into her positive adaptations – who am I kidding – I need to learn to tap into my own too!
  2. Stress Coping Ability – It is stated that individuals who possess high standards, and tenacity, trust their instincts, and accept themselves and their situations are more likely to positively adapt to stress and adversity. I don’t know about you, but I want to help my daughter and myself be more self-accepting and stress-overcoming. It’s so easy to fall into the lie that we are a victim of our circumstance. The truth this, our circumstances are the jump off places of our excellence – challenges grow us – we aren’t a victim to them.

There are so many more benefits to developing this life skill of resilience. In the world, there are a lot of things that appear to be derailing us from our goals in athletics and in life. It is important that we develop the practice of resilience in our lives and in the lives of the athletes around us.

Much of the training required to develop these skills in young or old athletes come from coaches and parents who know that life and sport are a process of ups and downs. Growth is NEVER linear.

If you’re looking for support in the area or know an athlete who is, please send them to Anchored Female. I have struggled with many of the challenges listed in this research like disordered eating, body image issues, and debilitating stresses… Today, I’m raising a young female athlete as I continue to pursue my athleticism. My focus is on the physical and mental health of all female athletes that join our programs.

Thanks for reading!


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