An Olympic Champion's 3 Holiday Gifts: #1 -- Disappointment


Most Americans are unfamiliar with the name Mikaela Shiffrin. But, she is one of the most dominant athletes in her sport of alpine ski racing (a sport that only garners attention for most people every four years). Not only is she the current Olympic and World Champion in slalom and the three-time defending World Cup slalom champion, but she has accomplished all of this by age of 20.

Not only is Mikaela a remarkable athlete, but she is an absolute fount of powerful lessons that every young athlete can benefit from to help them reach their goals. Yes, Mikaela is truly a gift that keeps on giving. And during this holiday season, Mikaela (without realizing it) gave athletes the world over three gifts from her World Cup races in Aspen, Colorado in November. Today, I'll talk about Gift #1: Disappointment.

A few weeks ago, after winning the first run and, on the second run, being three gates from the finish for her first outright World Cup giant slalom victory (she tied for a win with the Austrian Anna Fenninger at Soelden, Austria in 2014) Mikaela inexplicably fell and didn't finish the race. After the race, she was "was understandably disappointed yet also optimistic," according to an article on More from Mikaela shortly.

No one likes to be disappointed. You feel sad, defeated, demoralized. Your heart aches for the opportunity lost and the goal not achieved. It's a terrible feeling, but not allowing yourself to feel disappointed is another opportunity lost and a lesson not learned.

Certainly, disappointment is not a pleasant emotion; it feels really bad, in fact. But that doesn't mean it is a bad emotion to be avoided at all costs. To the contrary, disappointment is actually a very healthy and positive emotion that plays an essential role in your pursuit of your sports (and other) dreams. But disappointment is only a 'good' emotion if you can understand what it is and how it can help propel you toward your sports goals.

What is Disappointment?

Disappointment is perhaps the most immediate negative emotion you experience after a perceived failure. Disappointment involves the feelings of thwarted desire, loss, and discouragement when you fail to fulfill your hopes, goals, and expectations. Disappointment is a natural response to failure, but it's not the disappointment matters. What matters is how you respond to it.

Unfortunately, many athletes react to their disappointment in ways that actually increase the likelihood of more failure and more disappointment. These athletes lose their motivation, give less effort, give up easily, or quit all together. This reaction to disappointment can cause you to feel incompetent and inadequate, which, if persistent, will hurt your confidence and motivation, and will definitely prevent you from achieving their athletic goals. Though some disappointment following failure is normal, athletes who are hit hard by disappointment mope around, look deflated, and feel sorry for themselves for far longer than they should. The problem with this type of reaction to disappointment is that you automatically lose! Yes, disappointment can take the wind out of your sails, but it doesn't have to be that way.

To be sure, that is NOT how Mikaela responded to her disappointment in the giant slalom. As she stated after her slalom race the next day: "Sometimes I think that disappointment can hurt you, or drive you into the next races. Yesterday, I made the decision that I was going to let it fuel me for today." And, boy, was she running on jet fuel the next day; Mikaela won the slalom by a record-setting 3.07 seconds!

The Right Attitude Toward Disappointment

Disappointment is a normal, though difficult, part of sports. You will inevitably experience disappointment not only in your sports, but also in school and even in your friendships. But, how you learn to respond to disappointment will determine its impact on their future success and happiness. You can see disappointment as an insurmountable obstacle or you can see it merely as a stumbling block to overcome on the road to your goals. Accepting this different perspective on your disappointment--"I know it feels bad right now, but how can it fuel me?"--gives you the power to minimize the harm that your disappointment does to you in the future. It also helps you to turn the obstacles to your advantage by increasing your resilience, motivation, and confidence.

After "falling off the horse" with a disappointing result, you will naturally feel a brief period of letdown, but then you must pick yourself up and get back on the horse, that is, get back to pursuing their athletic goals with renewed determination and intensity. By staying positive and enthusiastic, you can experience a better way of feeling in response to failure and find new ways to overcome your setbacks and return to your path toward your goals.

Rather than the disappointment disheartening you and causing you to feel bad about yourself, you can use the experience to affirm your capabilities by showing yourself that you can conquer your failures and your disappointment. As difficult as it may seem, you want to view disappointment as training for adulthood (because you're going to experience plenty of disappointment as a grown-up!). You want to accept that failure and disappointment as an inevitable and unavoidable part of life and what matters is how you react to it.

So, next time you are disappointed after a competition, think about the gift of disappointment that the Olympic Champion, Mikaela Shiffrin, gave you for the holidays and use it to fuel yourself toward your athletic goals. And don't forget thank her for it!