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Lessons from the cricket pitch: recovering from a setback

Professional athletes draw strength from games they lost to triumph in the next match – you should too

A crisis in HR can take many forms – whether you are on the losing side of an employment tribunal or have to make a team redundant – and such setbacks can seem overwhelming. However, there are powerful insights from the kind of leadership shown in sports that can help HR professionals recover from a setback.

In HR, just as in sport, you must have the right mindset. So how do you toughen up and get back in the game when everything seems lost? Every high performer experiences painful setbacks during their career and the big question is how you deal with them. Will you recover or fold? Recovery is not just about trying again, but building your skills so you emerge more resilient.

It is vital you face what went wrong. Identify where your plans failed and focus on the elements you can control. Taking personal responsibility for the mistakes or poor decisions that you made will be crucial to moving on, while worrying about what could have been won’t help.

Reflecting on your personal experiences of resilience can offer useful clues and perspective. What was your mindset at the time? Who was in your support network? What small steps did you take to recover from previous challenges that will help you this time?

Often our biggest regret isn’t the loss itself, but losing our minds in the heat of battle. I experienced such a setback in 2002, playing a one-day international against India where England was chasing a big score. If I’d handled things calmly I could have won the game, but instead I played a high-risk shot and ended up walking back to the pavilion.

Coming away from that, I realised that everyone has a psychological breaking point. Talent is not always enough. You need that ability to think clearly under pressure. Being self-aware is the start – what are your strengths and where might your skills be exposed? Once you know this you should focus on maximising your strengths and covering your Achilles heel.

Giving yourself some downtime is vital to recovering. Your brain acts in the same way as your muscles after being worked to overload. John Coates, senior research fellow in neuroscience and finance at the University of Cambridge, says: “acute stress followed by recovery is a beautiful pattern for building resilience. But in a period of chronic stress, suffering these stressful situations with no recovery period, the stress response can act like acid on your body and have the exact opposite effect."

Coming back after a setback takes time, so a balanced strategy will be key to your long-term performance. Working harder won’t solve the problem, but keeping your perspective and reconnecting with your support network will ensure that you are able to gain fresh perspectives from those who want you to succeed the most. Every champion has a failure on their CV. Rather than turn your back on it use it as your motivation to prove doubters wrong.

Jeremy Snape is a former England cricketer and founder of Sporting Edge