Learn to embrace failure The best athletes in the world bounce back quickly after disappointing races because they have a different perspective on success and failure.

Source: Triathlon Magazine Canada

— by Melanie McQuaid


Flats happen. Don’t let the bad luck affect your attitude moving forward.

Athletes looking to be their very best are pushing their limits, aiming for the edge of their potential and trying to avoid falling short. This approach means flirting with the razor edge of success or failure.  Embracing failure as an indication of current limits, rather than as an audit of ability, allows for more positive reflection on disappointing results.

Bouncing back from a disappointing race, particularly when the race is a key focus of the season is challenging. The best athletes in the world bounce back quickly after disappointing races because they have a different perspective on success and failure. Reflecting on, evaluating and finally moving on from a disappointing outcome is key to continual improvement. The following steps help break down this process.


Setting a deadline for post-race reflection is the first step. It isn’t unusual for athletes to change how they feel a race went between the immediate days following the event and a week later. Time is necessary to calm emotions before analyzing the performance objectively.

Setting a timeline ensures that athletes don’t stall in their reflection. Dwelling on a bad performance for too long leads to a spiral of depression and prevents refocusing on the future. A time limit keeps a schedule for reflection, but also sets a time to move on.



Failure is a tough and emotional experience. It can chip away at confidence and self-esteem if it isn’t framed in the right context. Viewing failure as a yardstick of current ability and an opportunity to learn is the best approach. This creates motivation to improve and refocuses on the areas for improvement. No failure defines an athlete unless they give up as a result. The final step is to get back to work.

Adversity, setbacks and mistakes are inevitable in sport. The important thing is to foster and build self-belief in spite of failure. Self-belief is the essential element in an athlete that creates resilience, honest self-evaluation, and perseverance. Properly assessing, and moving on from, a bad race builds self-belief.  This is how great athletes to continue pushing their limits.

Melanie McQuaid is a three-time Xterra world champion and the 2017 ITU Cross world champion. She lives and coaches in Victoria.


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