Developing resilience for success and well-being
I recently listened to a presentation by Dr. Mustafa Sarkar and Dr. David Fletcher, two psychologists who have spent their careers studying resilience in high performance settings, and it challenged my own preconceptions.
Resilience is another buzzword. We hear it often in postgame press conferences from players and coaches on the winning side. But what is it? And how can we as coaches cultivate more of it?
In this week’s 3 points, we’ll define what resilience is, the role the environment plays and a framework to develop a resilient environment.
1. Defined simply, resilience is the ability to use personal qualities to withstand pressure (Fletcher & Sarkar). Resilience is not a fixed trait, resilience is a capacity that can be developed over time. In fact, it is important that we don’t view feeling vulnerable or struggling to cope with adversity as weakness. As Sarkar puts it, “in order to withstand and thrive on the highest levels of pressure, individuals may first need to succumb to adversity to subsequently benefit from the psychological and behavioral changes that only this level of trauma can bring.”
“When a flower doesn’t bloom, you fix the environment in which it grows, not the flower”
We typically think of resilience as an individual characteristic; however, resilience is strongly impacted by the environment. Fletcher and Sarkar directed their attention at environments that people can thrive in as a performer and person. They found that for resilience to be developed for sustained success and well-being, a facilitative environment needs to be created and maintained.
2. So what is a facilitative environment?
According to Fletcher and Sarkar, facilitative environments are both highly challenging and highly supportive.
Challenge involves everyone (leaders, coaches, support staff, and athletes) having high expectations of one another, and helps to instill accountability and responsibility.
Support refers to enabling people to develop their personal qualities ( such as flexibility & adaptability, feeling in control, having balance & perspective, and perceived social support) and helps to promote learning and build trust.
Lets take a closer look at Unrelenting vs Facilitative environments:
The unrelenting environment (high challenge & low support) is characterized by unhealthy competition, leaders exposing and ridiculing under performers, a blame culture when high standards are not met, an avoidance mentality due to the consequences of making mistakes, little care for well-being, people feeling isolated, potential conflict, unsustainable performance, potential burnout, and a “sink or swim” attitude (Fletcher and Sarkar, 2016).
The facilitative environment (high challenge & high support) is characterized by supportive challenge towards a goal, individuals having input into and taking ownership of goals, individuals seeking out challenges to develop, individuals craving constructive feedback, good relationships between performers and leaders or coaches, a psychologically safe environment that encourages sensible risk-taking, healthy competition, everyone supporting one another, learning from mistakes and failures, recognition and celebration of success, and a “we’re in this together” attitude (Fletcher & Sarkar, 2016).
3. “Comfort the troubled, and trouble the comfortable” - Dietrich Bonhoeffer (Australian, Ric Charlesworth, is known for applying to the sports coaching process).
Watch carefully. As you expose your teams to pressure in practice whether it be by demands of a drill, competition, goals or consequences - notice how individuals respond. When the pressure demands become too high for an individual, we can expect to see debilitative responses. This is when we support the athlete! Whether it be technical, emotional or motivational, it is important the athlete believes they are supported.
On the other hand, when athletes react to pressure with facilitative responses and positive outcomes, it lets us know they have adapted to the pressure and this is our cue to increase challenge.
I’ve attached Fletcher and Sarkar’s characteristics of stagnant and comfortable environment’s as well: