Experiencing Success and Setbacks in Training

When getting into a fitness routine or training for a fight, there will always be ups and downs along the way. Success in training or in fitness can impact future performance, while setbacks can impede future performance. Both success and setbacks have a common thread that can encourage us to push forward toward achievement.

Learning to channel your mental fortitude is not as easy as just “willing” yourself into perseverance. Instead, there are some key ingredients that each issue possess that can be both positive and negative. Understanding how you receive success and setbacks and how you learn from them, can greatly influence your future achievements.



As an athlete or someone who is trying to stay fit, failure can be a scary word. For most people, failure conjures up negative emotions and perceptions from others. It’s very common to feel shame or humiliation from failure and those strong, negative emotions can cause fear of failing in the future. As a result, the avoidance of failure can actually propel you to failure.

Dr. Alan Goldberg, one of the leading Sports Psychologists in America, says that there are three positives that come from failure. If you’re focused solely on “not failing” then you are not focused on your overall performance. Failure-- according to Dr. Goldberg-- can teach you what you are doing wrong in your training. If you are focused on avoiding the pain of failure then you are not concentrating on having the correct form or generating power from your core in boxing.

Failure as a Positive Thing

Failure is a great source of feedback. It is a common misconception that failure is equal to weakness or inferiority. That can’t be further from the truth. Contenders often fail, many times in the public eye, and how they recover or don’t recover could impact the course of their entire future.

Don’t look at failure as a negative or something that should be avoided, but as a learning experience. If you think of failure as a puzzle that needs to be solved, then getting back to your training will not be something you avoid, but instead are eager to do. Failure can help you assess what you did right, but also what you were doing wrong. In most professional sports, they take film of a game or match and break it down and analyze it afterward. This film shows what the athlete was doing well and what the athlete needs to work on. Even on the professional level failure can be a catalyst for improved performance.

Negative Self-Talk

Dr. Goldberg also explains that failure can expose negative self-talk. Self-talk is the psychological term for how we internally assess our self-worth. Depending on many variables, our self-talk may be too overly critical or too grandiose. Failure can make your self-analysis worse if you do not change the way that you view it. If you do feel extremely self-conscious about what others think of you based on how you succeed or fail, you may never actually see what strengths you have in training and what you need to work on. This makes constructive criticism from your coach difficult to take and absorb.

The fear of failure can keep you from taking risks. As a contender, you must take calculated risks to succeed in a fight. Without taking risks, you will never be pushed outside your comfort zone, and comfort is the enemy of greatness. Often the fear of failure is really the fear of trying. If you don’t try something then you can’t fail at it. Second guessing yourself and not taking that punch for fear of not landing it, or opening yourself up to a punch when your defenses are down, impede the positives that could happen.


Just as failure can influence your self-worth, it can also impede your motivation. Humans have a reward center in the brain that motivates us to do something that is unpleasant in order to gain something that is desired. Training is a grueling task that can help you reach your fitness goals. You train because the reward is winning, whether against an opponent or against yourself. Failure is often seen as a lack of reward and thus, motivation is impeded. Some of the greatest sports coaches have said that the most motivating reward for athletes is one that the athlete sets for themselves. It is the most sustaining motivation.

If you see a setback as a glitch and not the definitive outcome, then the odds are greater that you will not be deterred from training and competing in the future.


Success as a Negative

As absurd as it may sound, success can also be detrimental to performance. Success often creates self-talk that overestimates what you are capable of so that you skip training or stop including fundamentals in your training. Forgetting these fundamentals can take away from your self-discipline. Humility, an important aspect of boxing success, is the love of self-discipline. Someone who is humble is slow to take credit for a team’s victory, because they understand that it was a joint effort, not just the work of one individual. A contender with humility also knows that to keep succeeding, they must keep working, even when it seems tedious or irrelevant.

Jordan Fliegel of CoachUp wrote about learning from the greats. In his article, coaches talk about encouraging players to understand why certain training is necessary and what that building block will do for their overall performance. As you train, don’t just rely on your coach to explain why you need to do specific tasks during a workout, you have to be proactive in finding out why on your own.

The Long Game

Success is not defined by your performance in one bout or even ten, but rather in the long-term goal of a career. In 1972, Muhammad Ali was undefeated before he fought for the title of world championship heavyweight boxing. He was beaten by another undefeated heavyweight boxer, Joe Frazier. Muhammad Ali didn’t quit or slink away in shame. Instead, he trained harder and came back in 1973 to defeat Frazier during a rematch. Muhammad Ali was defeated five times in his career but he always managed to best his opponents during rematches.

Determining what your long-term goals are must be a priority. Knowing what you’re working for will help you break down your long-term goal into smaller short-term goals. If you don’t succeed in all of them, that doesn’t mean you can’t still reach that long-term goal! This approach helps your self-talk stay positive and also increases your self-motivation.

Tools for Better Performance

Make sure that your motivation is better performance and not just winning or losing weight. Winning is something that is great in the short term, but doesn’t help challenge or inspire you. The Michael Jordans and the Muhammad Alis of this world competed against themselves more than anyone else. Learn to beat your best time, your best bench press weight, your best punch, and you will find your opponent is not who inspires you or gets you to training every day: it’s you!

Visualize your long-term goals. Whether it’s seeing yourself in the best shape of your life, beating a difficult opponent or feeling comfortable in a bikini at fifty-five years old, if you can see yourself doing these things you can achieve them. It all goes back to self-motivation and keeping the end goal possible. If your self-talk instills doubt and tears you down, then it becomes what psychologists refer to as a self-fulfilling prophecy. You won’t reach your goals, not because you are not capable, but because you are convinced you can’t.

Emotional Connections Matter

In addition to visualization, it is important to have an emotional connection to your goal. Don’t set goals for yourself that someone else has made for you, set goals that you are passionate about! When you first started anything new it probably seemed intimidating, but then the passion kicked in and overrode the fear and self-doubt. Having an emotional connection to your goals keeps you motivated. Emotion and visualization keep a personal tie to the goal and make it yours instead of someone else’s.

If you are wondering if these techniques work in the real world, the answer is yes! Individuals who have faced hardships from chronic illness, overcoming obstacles like disabilities, challenges with energy and the burden of excess weight have used these techniques. They have regained lost muscle mass, learned not just to walk but run again and found new vitality and a new body in the process.

Reaching these goals are only a small part of the journey. The next journey is building upon the successes and setbacks to create an even more inspiring story. So if these individuals can do it, what are the excuses holding you back? Keep that in mind during your next training session at Gloveworx.