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17-09-2021 | Karen Oud (

How to deal with setbacks in sports?

For over 2 years we have been in a pandemic no one saw coming. The competitive athletes among us will recognize well what it's like to keep switching plans and schedules, and dealing with disappointments. Last year, I had to pep myself up several times to gather my courage, set a goal and continue training.

Now - I say it very gently - the end seems to be in sight, events are happening again. So is this blog no longer topical? Quite the contrary. If there's one thing I've learned in the past year, it's dealing with setbacks. That skill is always relevant. Injuries, for example, can also cause a major blow to our motivation. So, how do you ensure that you suffer as little as possible from setbacks? Read the tips below!

Back to basics

You've suffered an injury. Terribly disappointed, but you can't make it suddenly disappear. It's there, and you'll have to take care of it as best you can to get back to your sport as soon as possible. To do that, go back to basics: do everything you can to take care of your injury: go to the physio and get treatment, do the exercises you are prescribed, treat the injury at home with massages, taping, ice, whatever it takes. THIS is your goal now, deal with it in a disciplined and consistent manner. Be patient. Rather give it a few extra days of rest than try again in pain and break down even more.

Even if your event is cancelled - for whatever reason - go back to basics. Especially if you didn't already have another important goal shortly after. So your next event is now a bit further away. Good, because then you have extra time to work on your core, or to build up that extra tempo hardness. Create a training block of a few weeks with the focus on this. See it as an in-between project, see it as a "bonus", and see the benefits of it.

Personal goals

It doesn't make up for the excitement and kick that an event can give you, but personal goals such as achieving PRs can also give you motivation. Both in the build up to it, and after achieving it. If you achieve a PR without an event, it is actually extra clever: you did not have the adrenaline that an event brings. It can give you an extra boost in self-confidence. Have you ever wanted to set a PR on a 40km time trial, or a 300+ km ride? This gives you time to work towards it when (long-term) events are dropped from your schedule.

Taking a good look at your cycling technique can be a goal in itself. I've had a good time over the past year or so honing my technique, and I've made a lot of progress. I probably couldn't have done that if I'd been running from event to event.

You can also work on overcoming certain thresholds in training or races, or dealing with mental ghosts or insecurities. Are you a somewhat fearful when descending? So you can now quietly work on that.

Alternative sports

In the case of injuries, doing alternative forms of exercise is sometimes necessary. In the case of slipping goals, it's a way to clear the head: to gather renewed energy and motivation for when you're rebuilding toward an event that does happen.

Can't ride for a while? Even then there's no way overboard, you'll just have to be open to alternatives. Think about swimming or rollerblading, to give it a try. In the gym, crosstrainer and rowing ergometer are excellent alternatives. Your physio can give you advice. If you are temporarily unable to ride a road bike, but you can ride a city bike, then that is definitely a good thing to do as well. D1 and even D2 you can achieve on a city bike as well. For example, go on the city bike to a nice walking area and walk there for two hours. Keep moving, that's the most important thing! Spend more time on strength training / core stability and the exercises of the physio. So you set the foundation extra good for when you can ride again.


You can't be focussed 365 days a year. If you have a (short) period of less focus due to a setback and are looking for more relaxation or spontaneity in training, then that's fine. Relaxation can give you new motivation. But keeping focus in difficult times also ensures that you come out of it in the best possible way.

Think of small intermediate goals for yourself, and throw yourself into them. For example, by breaking down the approach to an injury into smaller goals, you will have more frequent moments of success, and more frequent production of the happiness hormone dopamine. In addition, your injury will heal faster if you work on your exercises and other (self) treatment in a structured way.

Don't panic

Of course it sucks that you're injured. But your body has a good memory. If you're stationary in a specific sport for less than two weeks, you won't see much fitness loss. Longer than two weeks, of course, you do lose some. But if all goes well you will have engaged in other forms of exercise in the meantime that will partly compensate for that. Often you will get back to your old level in a few weeks. Depending on the severity of the injury of course. If you have broken a leg, you have really done very little. In that case, you have to swallow the bitter pill and start building up again. But again: don't panic, and keep that focus!

Success, and on to a the fall races and hopefully a nice winter!

This blog was previously published on, your personal cycling and triathlon coach.

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