How the Best Athletes Respond to Bad Days

No matter how bad things may appear, understand that they're vital to your complete development.

Bad days.

We all have them.

Like it or not, bad days are inevitable. If you do something long enough, they're just part of the journey.


Bad days.

We all have them.

Like it or not, bad days are inevitable. If you do something long enough, they're just part of the journey.

Sometimes you might even go through a string of bad days in a row—the dreaded slump. It seems like the harder you try, the worse things get. No matter what happens you can't seem to get out of your own way.

The truth is, you are usually the one who takes it the hardest.

To everyone else, it's, "Oh well, so and so is having a rough time. They'll get over it."

But to you, it's "Oh no. I'm terrible. I'm the worst. I stink." You mentally beat yourself up big time.

I'm a coach, but I'm also a strength athlete. I've been lifting for the better part of 35 years and coaching for most of those, as well. That adds up to a lot of bad days. I've had lots of really good ones, no doubt, but no question—plenty of bad ones.

As you become a more experienced athlete or coach, you learn that slumps or bad days are just part of your career.

It is wildly unrealistic to expect yourself to feel and perform awesome every single day, week after week, month after month, year after year.

The answer is not to "have no bad days." The answer is how you react to the bad days that will inevitably occur.

I have seen guys completely fall apart mentally and start questioning everything they do during a slump. They want to change bats or helmets or coaches. They change their stance. They buy new cleats. They sacrifice sleep to train extra hard. They're anxiety-riddled and exhausted.

They're all but ready to move to a new town because they feel so hopeless in their current situation.

Such reactions do nothing to rectify your situation. They only make things worse.

There is usually no external force causing your universe to be out of kilter—it is just part of your journey. Most slumps are mental. You have a few bad training days, you strike out a few times in a row, or you throw a few picks in a game, and you began to freak out mentally.

In doing so, you lose control over the few things we have control over in this unpredictable, chaotic world—your mindset.

I have something called my crappy day pile.

If I have a bad day or three, I just throw them on my crappy day pile and move along.

I remember Michael Jordan once having a rough stretch and being pestered by reporters on how he planned to fix it. Asking him all kind of different questions—"Are you gonna take 1,000 extra shots each practice? Are you going to see a hypnotist?"

You know what MJ's answer was?

Nope, I'm just gonna keep playing and just keep shooting.

That was it. Nothing changed. He just kept doing what he'd been doing, sticking with the same routine, habits and mindset that made him so successful in the first place.

I remember a similar situation with Derek Jeter years later. Again, he didn't burn his bat or visit a witch doctor. He simply accepted that bad days and slumps happen to everyone, and things eventually turned around.

In a 2002 NFC divisional playoff game, Brett Favre threw six interceptions. The Packers lost by 28 points.

His response?

"I could have thrown eight if we had gotten the ball back, you know," Favre told reporters. "I'm going to keep chucking it. If you play long enough in this league, just about everything is going to happen to you…I never expected to throw six interceptions…I never expect to throw one. You're not going to be perfect every day out there. But, like always, I'll be back."

I can remember personally a few years back a day when I went in to the gym and couldn't squat to save my life. It was like I forgot how to do something I had done thousands of times. I am proud of my squats, I like doing them, and I'm pretty damn good at it, but suddenly…uh-oh.

It went on for a while. No matter what happened, it just didn't feel or look correct. At first I panicked. I thought I needed to make some massive changes to get my mojo back.

Then, I remember telling myself that story about MJ.

I corralled my emotions back in check and just committed to the fact my crappy day pile was going to get a little bit higher.

Then I walked into the gym one day and, boom! I crushed my attempts and my lifts were right back on track.

I changed nothing. I just kept doing what I'd been doing all these years. I just moved along.

One thing I did realize was that I was learning and growing from my slumping adventure.

To truly become the best athlete (or person, for that matter) you can be, understanding and processing negative situations are part of development. You must learn to be in full control of your emotions, particularly when things aren't going well. No matter how bad things may appear, understand that they're vital to your complete development. Not many bad days are the career-enders we make them out to be. Nope—they're just part of the ride.

The older I get, the easier it is for me to accept that. Now when I have a bad day, I laugh it off and realize I love the game and all that goes with it.

Same goes for my athletes. I make light of the situation and tell them to start a crappy day pile. If you're going to get anywhere in this world, you can't carry around your bad days for long.

Do the best with what each day has dealt you.

Don't stomp your feet or throw your helmet or have a tantrum. Learn to keep your head on straight and have a short memory. Look ahead. The days that've passed can never be changed, but today can. 

Focus your positive energy on all the good you can do instead of wasting your energy on the past. 

This is how you get better. This is what true consistency is all about.

Start a crappy day pile, and don't be afraid to load it up. One day, you'll look at it and say, 'Man, that's a big pile.' 

Then you'll laugh to yourself and move along. 

Coach Rick Scarpulla is the owner of the Ultimate Advantage Training Center. You can reach him at 914-433-1110 as well as on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter.

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