The Proactive Athlete & Results

by Matt Cuccaro, Ed.M.

There are two very distinct ways to approach and respond to results in competition.  One approach is to be reactive, emotional, and helpless. The other is to be proactive, thoughtful, and open to introspection. Let’s use the example of a junior golfer who breaks 80 on a regular basis in practice. Today this player has posted a horrible score of 92 in a major junior tournament. The player is extremely upset and emotional walking off the course.  This is the natural response of any athlete who trains hard and cares about posting solid scores in competition, especially major competitions. After all, college coaches, peers, family members, and friends are all going to see the score and form an opinion about what happened out there.  This is the reality of competing and putting yourself on the line in tournaments. From this moment forward is what differentiates and defines the two types of athletes (the reactive and the proactive).  The reactive athlete will take one course of action and the proactive athlete will take another.  The choice is yours…

Reactive athlete – The reactive athlete allows results to define him or herself.  “If I play well…I am good, if I play bad…I am bad”.  The reactive athlete does not evaluate the round to identify what was done well and what are opportunities for improvement.  This athlete wants to forget about poor results and treats successful performance as though it should always be expected.  This type of person avoids the reality of the situation and simply hopes that tomorrow’s results will be better.

Proactive athlete – The proactive athlete may also show emotion to both successful and poor performances, but it doesn’t last for extended periods of time.  This person knows that a thorough evaluation must be done in order to draw from the experience to become even better moving forward.  A thorough and effective evaluation cannot be done in the heat of emotion, however, so this type of athlete likely sits down to cool off with a meal and some hydration to recover physically and mentally from the stress of competing.  This also means that any support team in attendance (coaches, family, friends, etc.)  respects that the athlete may need time and space to get out of the competitive mindset. Once the proactive athlete feels like they are back in “neutral” they assess their strengths and limitations from the day both physically and mentally.  Statistical measurements can be used to lead the physical evaluation (fairways/greens hit, number of putts, up and down percentage, etc.).  In order to do a mental evaluation, the proactive athlete grades him or herself on their preparation, effort, and ability to recover from adversity that day.  Once the assessment in complete, he or she takes action to maintain their current strengths and works diligently to improve their current limitations.  They make a simple plan to establish priorities moving forward and act upon those priorities to build effective habits. The proactive athlete is always learning, and therefore improving, from both success and failure.

In short, the reactive athlete has an emotional response to results while the proactive athlete uses results as feedback.  All athletes have both successes and failures throughout a career, throughout a year, and even throughout a single performance.  Over the course of a career, the proactive athlete will effectively deal with this reality and continuously improve as a result.  The reactive athlete will either stay the same or possibly get even worse. The choice is yours!  Do you intend to be a reactive or a proactive athlete this summer?


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