Life is all about comebacks. Our lives ebb and flow. As both a counselor and a teacher of taijiquan, I have encountered many people with inspiring comeback stories. I have known people who were abused in all sorts of cruel ways as children but who grew to thrive. I have known people of color who grew up in the midst of segregation, when lynching was common, and even though they were surrounded by hate, they grew to have some of the kindest hearts I have met. And I have gotten to work with athletes, who are special in their own right. They tend to be very goal driven. It is a question of finding direction and strength to comeback from losing a contest or from an injury that may jeopardize their participation in the sport they love.
In The Champion’s Comeback: How Great Athletes Recover, Reflect, and Reignite, Jim Afremow, PhD, gives a very nice overview of how athletes, and others, can make a comeback after suffering adversity. Afremow is a licensed professional counselor who has done sports psychology consulting with people ranging from high school students to professional athletes and Olympians. He is the author of a prior book, The Champion’s Mind: How Great Athletes Think, Train, and Thrive. His website is called Gold Medal Mind.
Afremow begins by contrasting contenders from champions by using triangles as visual metaphors. The contender’s triangle points downward and the sides are “threats and avoidance.” He refuses help, doesn’t do the hard work, and basically feels threatened by the prospect of competition and failure. The champion’s triangle points upward with challenges and support on the sides. By contrast, the champion embraces challenges, seeks feedback and support, and realizes that failure is our greatest teacher.
Afremow looks at common setbacks like defeats, slumps, and injuries, and provides ways to address them in a positive way. He draws a lot from positive psychology throughout the work. The book is built around the seven L’s which he says champions use to crack the Champion’s Comeback Code: let go, look for support, love the game, learn, labor, learn optimism, and lean on your mental game.
The book is relatively short and basic, and that is a good thing. It is very pragmatic and gives us ideas with a proven track record. Afremow gives us stories of how the techniques work and shares stories of those who don’t come back, or don’t even start to comeback because of fear, and what happened to them. Despite the emphasis on competition, the need for cooperation and collaboration comes through again and again. While coming back is up to us, we do not do it alone. We need to seek out positive support.
Afremow gives good techniques for changing self talk, which is basic to changing behavior. He helps us learn to set goals and to be in the moment, in the flow. He even uses Michael Jordan’s Hall of Fame entry speech as a teaching tool. He emphasizes the need for internal motivation. I also like that he emphasizes the very powerful tool of visualization, and he gives several scripts to use for athletics and also for school and work. The scripts use both third person (watching yourself as though watching a movie) and first person (visualizing as if you are in the action looking from your own eyes). I am already working on adapting these for working with people in both counseling and in taijiquan.
The Champion’s Comeback is a good tool that I am adding to my sports psychology, counseling, and teaching toolbox, since I know people who could use good comeback inspiration, and they can find it here.
The Champion’s Comeback: How Great Athletes Recover, Reflect, and Reignite
Rodale Books, May 2016
Hard cover, 272 Pages