Building Resilience: The Role of the Environment

Updated: Jun 14, 2019


Resilience is key to success in any performance field.


Resilience is defined as "the ability to withstand pressure, to adapt when things aren't going well and to recover quickly from setbacks."


So, where does resilience come from? For years, there was the belief that resilience was an innate trait. People believed that you were either resilient or you were not resilient.


But is that actually true? Are people either resilient or not? Modern research suggests that it's not. Resilience is actually a very dynamic process.


You can be resilient in one area of your life, meanwhile lack resilience in another area. For example, an athlete may be very resilient when it comes to challenges they experience in their sport. However, in their personal relationships or their career, they might not adapt and bounce back so effectively.


Resilience also changes throughout your life. When we’re young, we tend to not be resilient.

It’s through experiencing life challenges and learning lessons along the way that we become more resilient and better able to adjust and bounce back.


Resilience is not a fixed trait. It’s actually a capacity which can be trained and developed. You might think of resilience as a muscle.


"Resilience is not a fixed trait. It’s actually a capacity which can be trained and developed. You might think of resilience as a muscle.


Building resilience starts with the environment


When someone is struggling with resilience, it’s common to look first at the individual. However, there is growing evidence that the most important factor in resilience is the environment.


The Support - Challenge Matrix is key to creating an environment that fosters resilience.



Low challenge and low support creates inertia and apathy. Athletes are bored and they don’t feel stimulated.


High challenge and low support creates a stressful environment. Athletes are isolated and lonely and there is a blame culture.


Low challenge and high support leads to a cosy environment. Athletes have high levels of well being, but they aren’t being pushed.

High challenge and high support creates a high performance environment. Athletes feel safe to make mistakes, take risks, challenge themselves, they seek out constructive feedback, use failure as an opportunity to grow, and have a high level of motivation.


Each these quadrants exist in sports environments. It is key that athletes have high levels of both support and challenge.