A fourth place finish in the 2010 Masters showed that Tiger Woods is slowly getting back on course after five dark months facing personal problems that threatened to ruin his professional career and credibility. He has had to face up to the consequences of his actions and become a more respectful, gracious and sincere player as a result.
So can periods of adversity be used to make a player perform better? Adversity can come in many forms: Jessica Ennis showed that she overcame the disappointment of being injured and missing the 2008 Olympic Games to go on to win the 2009 World Championships in the heptathlon; David Beckham and Wayne Rooney became more mature, responsible players after disappointing and angering the nation after being sent off in World Cups. And John Terry has been the subject of intense media scrutiny over his behaviour in his private life recently, yet scored the winning goal on his first match after the scandal broke.
Portsmouth Football Club also showed us the value of facing up to adversity. In this 2009/10 season, the club has faced changes of ownership, the widespread sale of players, players being paid late, High Court winding up orders, unpaid tax bills, 80 staff being laid off, administration, a points deduction and relegation. Yet because the manager, players and supporters have stayed united in adversity, they have developed a strong team spirit and kept on fighting to achieve impossible results by reaching the FA Cup final.
You could conclude that adversity could be used to improve performance depending on how it is interpreted by the player. All of a sudden there is increased pressure above the demands of playing and this can cause more stress and feelings of anxiety. The player needs to develop even more mental toughness to help them through the situation and this may also help them with the demands of their sport in the future.
Network of professionals
They may also develop a network of professionals, such as sport psychologists, who can help them to develop new mental skills which they can also use when they are playing their sport. If adversity can be seen as an opportunity to develop rather than as a threat to their career, then gains and benefits may be accrued.
Ultimately, maybe it’s more important that they come through periods of adversity by reflecting on their behaviour and its consequences, and therefore coming back as wiser human beings with a greater respect for people and the sport they play.
Any sportsperson going through the same would do well to heed Augusta National Golf Club chairman Bill Payne’s words to Tiger Woods that “with fame and fortune come responsibility not invisibility”.
Learn about handling adversity from top athletes: when the going gets tough.