Defeating Rejection

It’s fair to say that just about every single sporting athlete has faced some type of agonizing rejection or exclusion throughout their career. From an athlete that misses out on the first grade squad, is benched during a game, or is dropped from the team all together, to the team that is relegated - rejection comes in all shapes and sizes. The one thing every rejection has in common, however, is the excruciating sense of disappointment and suffering that follows.

One athlete that has experienced the pain of rejection is Olympic Water Polo player Tyler Martin. Having been a key player in the Australian squad in the lead up to the 2016 Rio Olympics, Tyler was heartbroken when he was told that his Olympic dream would not be a reality.  

In the Treading Water Podcast episode, Tyler reflects on the heart wrenching conversation with coach Elvis Fatović, saying “I got the vibe that it wasn’t going to be the best news for me. It was surreal - it didn’t really sink in. I spent a lot of time alone after that.”

Fellow water polo player and Treading Water host, Scott Nicholson empathized with Tyler, sharing a time he missed out on a place in the 2009 Junior Men’s Australian Squad. He described the feeling by noting, “literally every ounce of strength had just left me, I couldn’t even fathom doing anything.”

It is clear that the constant battle between dealing with sporting success and coping with points of setback is universally felt by every athlete. Michael Jordan was cut from his high school basketball team, Lionel Messi was dropped from his soccer team at age 11, and Tim Cahill missed out on making the Sydney Olympic youth team. It’s fair to say that the horrifying feeling of failure is something that cannot be avoided as an athlete, but instead needs to be approached in a healthy and positive way.

When Tyler did not make the Olympic Team, he had to make the pivotal life decision of whether to continue in the squad, noting, “how I talk about it now doesn’t reflect how hard it was at the time.” By focusing on his own peace of mind, he ultimately made the tough decision to travel with the Australian team to Europe, despite the reality that he would not be playing at the Olympics. It was this team-first mentality that eventually saw Tyler in the Olympic team after Nathan Power was ruled out with a hand injury just 10 days before the first game against Brazil. 

It is, however, easy to forget about the players that have silently faced rejection in sport, and the large amount of athletes that experience it. For every State of Origin, there are over 400 NSW NRL players that aren’t selected to wear the blue jersey. Similarly, of more than 250 A-League players, just 23 were chosen to represent Australia at the 2018 World Cup, and even then, 8 players never made it off the bench.

This universal experience of rejection is not just unique to sport, but can appear in all aspects of life. Whether it be when you don’t get that job you applied for, when you aren’t invited to the group dinner or simply when you don’t reach a goal, rejection is everywhere, and can be felt by everyone. In sport and in life, the highs are high and the lows are low. But at the end of the day, athletes decide whether the medals, the wins and the experience of playing a sport that you love are all worth the pain and fear of rejection.

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Emma Brown