Complete Athlete Training Series: Day 4 – Inner Circle

Hello again. I’m back live for day four of five of the Complete Athlete Video Series: “New year, New mindset.”

I’m excited about today. We’ve talked so far about the mind, the body, yesterday was the spirit, and today is the inner circle.

We’re starting in the middle, mind, body, spirit, inner circle. Tomorrow will be the team. These are all five elements of a complete athlete. Each of these elements, from my experience as a sports psychology expert, must be in place in order to unlock your maximum potential as an athlete.

My Background

Quick background if it’s your first day joining in. My name is Rebecca Smith. I am a high performance coach, specializing in work with kids age eight to 18. I really enjoy working with gymnasts, individual sports, swimmers, tennis players, but I work with anybody who needs to perform under pressure.

The Inner Triangle: Athlete, Coach, and Parent

There’s a toolkit by the way, and if you haven’t gotten the toolkit yet, it’s just full of a lot of different parts of my video series. That way you don’t have to take notes, you can refer to it.  Yesterday I had a meditation in it, and today it’s got all the notes on all of the exercises I’m going to do with you. You can get that for free at the bottom of this post.

I was looking at the diagram in the toolkit. I was like, “I call this inner circle,” but it’s actually a triangle. I should have probably called it, “Inner triangle.” You’ve got athlete, coach, and parent.

I typically deal with youth sports, so when we’re dealing with a youth athlete, you must have all three parts of the triangle strong in order to unlock maximum potential.

Now, you can get by with a mean coach. You can get by with a parent who doesn’t pay attention. You can’t really get by with an athlete who’s not that motivated, but you really need all three in alignment in order to have the absolute best youth sport experience, the best performances, and the most flow.

My experience with the inner triangle

I was a coach for 15 years, I coached gymnastics. I would see situations where we’d go, “Wow, this kid is talented. Oh my gosh, so exiting. They’re a really fun kid to be with, but their parent is kind of not interested.” That would be really difficult.

Now I work on the mental side, and I talk a lot with athletes who have a coach who’s maybe mean, or rude, or just not effective for that personality. That makes it really difficult for the athlete to get over blocks, or to be the best athlete they can be when they feel like they’re up against persecution from a coach.

Then I’ve also had parents come to me and go, “How do I get my kid motivated? My kid is so talented, but I can’t get get them to do what they need to do.” Well, it’s got to come from within. The drive has got to come from within.

It’s futile for a coach and a parent to be like, “Come on kid, get it together,” if the kids not interested. Then there’s just going to be self sabotage happening. What I’m going to talk about today is how to strengthen your triangle, and basically how to handle your part.

If you’re a parent, how you can be the best version of that. If you’re a coach, how you can be the best version of that. If you’re an athlete, what to do if your support squad, or your inner triangle is not functioning well.

Inner Triangle Issues

Here are some examples of Inner Triangle Issues: “Gosh, I really want to please my mom, but I get super stressed out whenever she talks to me about gymnastics.” Or, “My coach used to be nice, and then I’m sort of not improving, and then they got really mean.”

The first thing I do when somebody comes to me and then it becomes apparent that it’s an inner triangle issue is I have them write two lists:

  • One list of things you can control
  • Another list of things you can’t control

People who I’ve worked with, I’ve probably had you do this. It’s pretty foundational when you’re dealing with relationships.

What can you control?

On your list of things you can control, or “Controllables” you’ll probably come up with things like:

  • Fueling your body. That was day two.
  • The training, mental and physical. You can train your thoughts, you can train your body.
  • You can take action.
  • You can try, you can increase your effort.
  • You can improve your attitude,

You can show up and go, “You know what? Even if the coach is being rude, I’m going to show up with a smile and I’m going to do the best I can.” “Even if my mom keeps scheduling vacations during training, I’m going to visualize, and I’m going to condition in my hotel room. I’m going to do what I can.” Those are the things that you can control.

What can’t you control?

What comes up on the “can’t control” or “Let-go-able” list is:

  • Equipment
  • Weather
  • Teammates
  • Coaches
  • Parents
  • Other people

What can you control? You.

What can you not control? Other people.

How do you handle your point on the triangle without going crazy? And how do you unlock the maximum potential within those relationships?

I’m going to give you some ideas of exercises that I like to do with people, and you are welcome to try them. You can find a whole outline of the exercises I’m about to go through in the toolkit at the bottom of this post.  Instead of taking notes you can go download that.

I call it the, “Controllables,” and the, “Let-go-ables.” Basically, if you don’t have control over it, why hold on?

People hold on so tight trying to change other people, or convince them, or show them that they should be different. Really, the best thing you can do is let go, and focus on what you can control.

Exercises to fix the inner triangle

If you find yourself in a situation where you are really mad.. REALLY MAD at the coach or the parent, or even your kid, or if you’re the parent and you’re mad at the coach…

If you’ve got some major energy going on and that triangle is feeling super dysfunctional, I recommend writing a letter you don’t intend to send.

Write it out

Just write it out, “Dear coach, I am so mad. You did this, you did this, you did this.” Just let it all come out. Talk through everything you’re thinking, everything they’ve done wrong, everything that you’re mad about, and you just write, write, write, write, write.

Again, you don’t intend to send it. This is not the yell at your coach exercise.

Identify controllables

You write it all down, and then your next step is to go back through and look at all the things you’re mad about, and just circle the things that you do have control over. Notice what you don’t have control over. If you’re mad about things that you don’t have control over, you gotta let it go. I mean, that’s easier said than done, but that’s the idea.

Then you look at the things that you can control. You go back, and it’s going to feel hard to take responsibility for any of it, especially if you’re feeling really picked on.

Identify choices

I recommend going back through, and writing down all the choices you made that got you to that situation. This isn’t about you being bad or wrong at all. It’s about you starting to find your own power in a situation that can feel really powerless.

For example, “I Chose to join this gym. I chose to go to practice. I chose to try this skill. I chose to do gymnastics. I chose …” whatever that is.

Write down your choices, and then you can look back and go, “Okay, so I am choosing to be here. I’m choosing to keep training, I’m choosing to stay here because I believe that although this coach maybe is not the kindest coach, they are good and they are going to push me. I choose to stay with it, I choose to be around.” If you just go back and write, “I chose, I chose, I chose, I chose,” you can look back at it and go, “Okay, and now I can choose to tune them out if it’s not kind, or I can choose to go elsewhere.”

Basically your choices after the situation has happened really come down to accept, or change it, and that’s it.

Instead of suffering through, you either accept it and go, “Okay, this is out of my control and it’s worth sticking with it because I can see the benefit,” or you go, “Okay, it’s time to make a different choice.”

This can be really good for changing your perspective so that you’re not going like, “Oh, everybody’s messing me up.” Instead, you say, “Okay, what can I do about it?”

Sometimes first step, just writing the letter you don’t intend to send can help you notice, “Oh, that’s kind of crazy. I’m thinking crazy thoughts about this person that might not even be true. I might be trying to read this persons mind, and assuming that they think this.”

A note on mind reading

Trying to read people’s minds, or thinking you can is not worth your time.

Even if you think, “I know they’re thinking this…” Unless you are upstairs in their mind, you don’t know that. You can’t know what’s going on in their life, you can’t know what’s going on beneath the surface.

It’s not even worth it.

Really, if you’re being honest, if you’re deciding you know what somebody’s thinking, you’re really making up a story. If that story you’re making up doesn’t make you feel good, then what’s the point? You might as well make up a story of, “Oh, well she just got dumped so of course she’s mad,” or whatever. That’s just a side note on mind reading. I don’t recommend it, it’s not very helpful. If you’re going to mind read you might as well make up some kind of fabulous story that makes you feel good.

Gratitude Journal

Okay, then back to our triangle. If you’re the athlete, your coach or your parent is driving you nuts, or vise versa, one great thing to do is to do a gratitude journal. When you get really mad at somebody … I know I keep going back to the coach, but a lot of kids I work with, they are …

(I was a coach, I’m sure I upset plenty of kids in my life before I knew better. Sorry everybody, if you’re watching and I’ve upset you in my gymnastics coaching career. I apologize, I didn’t mean to.)

Anyway, when you’re mad, you tend to zero in on what somebody’s doing wrong.

If I’m mad at my coach, and I’m like, “She doesn’t give me enough spots. She doesn’t pay attention to me.” Then I’m going to zero in on that and be like, “See, oh, she did it again, she did it again, she did it again.”

When I was younger, I had this huge crush on a firefighter. I saw firetrucks everywhere. I was like, “Another, one, there’s another firetruck. Oh my gosh, there are firetrucks everywhere.” I tell this guy, “Gosh, I’ve been seeing firetrucks everywhere.” He’s like, “Probably cause you were thinking about me.” I was like, “Ooh, yep. Probably.”

Whatever you’re looking for, whatever’s on your mind, you will see.

If you’re looking for your parent to be annoying, you’re going to find it. Teenagers, it’s true.

If you’re looking for your athlete to be unmotivated, you’re going to see that.

Make a choice to see something different by writing out between five and 10 things every single day, about that person. “Okay. My coach is a jerk, but I’m grateful that they are really well trained, and they have coached some super high level athletes. They’re doing the best that they can.” Or, “I really like his shoes,” even if that’s all you can come up with. It starts to shift your perspective from what they’re doing wrong, to what they’re doing right. There’s always something they’re doing right.

Once you start to look for those things, they’ll start to grow.

I swear there’s like this energetic shift when you stop giving them the evil eye every time you see them, they soften.

There’s no guarantee, but you’ll be surprised. If you drop your guard, often they’ll drop theirs.

Writing out a gratitude journal, this helps not even in just relationships, but in perspective shift in general.

It’s easy to get kind of bogged down with what’s not going right. Instead make a habit of looking what is going right in relationships.

Gratitude helps all relationships

This made a huge difference in my marriage, actually. I used to get really grumpy about, “Oh, he’s not washing the dishes,” or, “He’s not, blah, blah, blah.” So, I set a reminder on my phone, this was years ago, that every time I pulled into my driveway it would ask me, “What are you grateful for about Austin?” Before I could get out of my car I would go, “I’m grateful for,” whatever it was. “That he went to work today and worked really hard.” Then I’d always walk into the house with that.

I’ve had athletes actually set a reminder on their phone when they show up to the pool, or the gym, to think about their coach, one thing that they’re grateful for before they even walk in. That can be, it’s a perspective shifter, and maybe even a game changer.

Find common goals

The third exercise of three that I’m going to share with you on how to strengthen the inner circle, or the inner triangle, is finding common goals. You may have somebody that you’re really butting heads with, whether it’s your kid, or your coach, or your mom.

Write out a list of everything that you have in common as far as goals.

  • You both want the athlete to succeed.
  • You both want to qualify for this meet.

Figure out all the things that you have in common, and then focus on those. Not the things that you’re disagreeing on, focus on what you have in common.

This is a really great tool for leadership in general. Anytime you’re having trouble getting people on the same page, stop yourself and go, “What do they want? Okay, I want that too. Great, let’s focus on that. Let’s not focus so much on what we’re disagreeing on.”

What we really need from our inner circle

That is a quick crash course and some exercises to really strengthen your inner circle, because that support squad is so critical.

A lot of the time when I talk with perfectionists (many of the athletes I work with fall into this category), what we need in order to get out of our comfort zone and not self sabotage, is that unconditional love and support from our teammates, from our coaches, from our parents, from our siblings, whoever’s the closest to us.

I know this happens for me when I get scared. I go, “Well, if I do this, if I make this goal, then I’ve got farther to fall. I don’t know if I want to be that good. I can just stay mediocre, nobody will expect much of me, and I’ll just be kind of in the middle where the judgement isn’t.”

Instead, my coaches, and my husband, everybody’s going, “No, you can do this. You have this. Take a risk, we will love you no matter what.”

Having that strength around me makes it possible for me to do what I’m doing today, which is this dream career.

Bottom line

Make sure that you are aligned with people who you can really feel supported by. If you’re not, then figure out what’s within your control, and go through those exercises to strengthen those relationships.

My challenge to you is to use one of those strategies that I gave you, and just try it out. See what happens, and let me know.

I would love it if you would check in and go, “Oh my gosh, I’m doing the gratitude journal and my coach turned into a completely different person.” Give it a shot, let me know, and I wish you the best of luck in sport and in relationships.