Topic: Helping Your Child Handle Self-Doubt & Disappointment
Hello! I’m Coach Rebecca, and I have a masters in sports psychology and specialize in high-performance coaching for young athletes. I have 15+ years of experience helping high-achieving athletes improve. In that time, I’ve realized there’s a pretty specific system to building confidence, getting through blocks, and finding flow.
I typically work with ages 8 through 18. I do work with other ages, but that’s really my sweet spot and what I enjoy. Most of the kids I work with are gymnasts, swimmers, golfers, and tennis players. I also have figure skaters and pole vaulters, so it’s a lot of individual sports.
Every Monday I answer questions and always give my PerformHappy members priority. PerformHappy is an online community of athletes and parents who come together with access to all of my trainings. The members join in and get access to me for questions and answers.
You’re on a team when you train, but ultimately you compete against yourself. This means that your brain is a huge part of the puzzle. My job is to teach athletes how to get their brain and their body on the same page.
When you get that happening, you overcome mental blocks, build confidence, and find your flow. Flow is when everything falls into place and all of your training shines through.
Whether you’re super stuck with a mental block or you’re having the best season of your entire life, I want to give you skills that will help improve where you are.
I have a couple of questions that members have sent me, so we’ll start with those.
Q: How do you keep the doubt from creeping back into a child’s mind?
I’ve had a lot of one-on-one clients who, when I start working with them, get a lot of success really fast. They figure out something that was getting in their way and they think, “Wait, that’s not working” or, “That’s not even true.” They have a huge shift and start to get their skills back and start reaching their goals.
The first thing I want to mention is that self-doubt is something you will probably confront until the end of time. The key is to know how to deal with it as quickly as possible so it doesn’t take over and send you into a downward spiral.
Another parent says,
Q: I am a parent of a 10-year-old gymnast and my question is maybe more about parenting than sports. I know my child has future aspirations in gymnastics because she talks about them. For example: getting better at her tumbling, scoring better in meets, making it to optionals to have input in her routines; but the day to day progress towards that is filled with complaints about practice and she will say, “I just don’t want to go” or “It’s too much work”. How can I help her overcome the immediate negativity to help her focus more on the future positives?
This is a little different. Somebody who really cares might react to that and say, “I’m going to keep my expectations low,” or, “I really, really want to try, but I might feel disappointed if anything goes wrong.” They start to feel the pressure and feel as though they’re never going to be as excellent as they want to be and say, “Who cares?”
The perfectionist in them says, “I don’t want to play a game I’m not going to win.” A lot of girls I work with get that. The self-doubt comes out in a lot of different ways, but I’m going to give you a step-by-step overview of how to deal with it.
You have a lot of potentially negative thoughts that get super loud, especially when the pressure is up. Your heart is pounding, you’re feeling tense, and there’s a ticking clock. The thoughts come to the surface. They even come during practice when the competition is around the corner, and you’re telling yourself you have to do well. But then you ask yourself, “What if I get hurt? Will my teammates be mad at me? What if I fall?”
Drown Out the Negative
The place that success comes from is this calm confidence that you should be going for. You drown out those negative thoughts is with positive ones. Sometimes, if you try to drown out the negative with the positive, it can make the negative voices even louder. There are a few solutions to that:
1. Get your thoughts moved from negative to neutral
Bring it to reality. Tell yourself that you are capable of doing this because you have done it all before, whether in practice or past competitions.
2. Try writing down all of your self-doubts, fears and negative thoughts happening in your head
Fold the paper in half with. One side is the negative column and the other side is affirmations for each negative thought. If your worry is about getting hurt, you’ll have an affirmation telling you that you’ve been training for this so you are safe. Make sure that every doubt and fear has something that you can replace it with to affirm yourself. Finally, tear the paper in half and toss the negative side. You’re now left with a list of affirmations. Read that list every single day, maybe even twice a day, or out-loud for 30 days. You’ll notice those thoughts popping into your head instead of the negative ones. They will grow as the volume turns down for negative thoughts.
3. Keep it in perspective
Don’t compare yourself to how you “should” be – see your progress instead. You’re going to have setbacks, life happens, but keep it in perspective and you will have a good mindset. I have a 9-year-old client who told me that if you’re cooking a stew and you’re putting in a good day, another good day, another good day, but one bad day, it’ll still be good stew. And she’s right. The bad day will dissolve into all of the good days you’ve put in. Good days are great for confidence, but bad days are great for getting new information that’s valuable for moving forward. If you’re moving forward and you have a setback, ask yourself, “What went well? What didn’t go well? What did I learn?” Get into a detective-like mindset. Figure out what worked and what didn’t. If one thought came up, refer back to your affirmations and pick a new thought.
4. Keep a gratitude journal
If you’re having trouble with a coach, write in your journal five things you’re grateful for about that person for 2 weeks. It will be hard, but if you write 5 things down every day for those two weeks you’ll notice how your energy is better whether or not they’ve changed. It is what makes you perform better. You can even keep a gratitude journal about life in general. Put pictures of people you love or who make you happy and draw pictures inside. Have a journal that you fill up with good, positive stuff. Pay attention to all that you are grateful for and put it in your journal. Any one of us can stop and ask themselves what exactly is going well.
5. Think about the big picture
If you keep showing up and putting in all of the work, you’ll improve. Sometimes it takes a little patience, which can be really hard for us perfectionists who are used to doing really well.
6. Take a break and walk away
Get a drink, take a couple of deep breaths, and think about something that makes you happy or things that made it into your gratitude journal. When you come back, come back into it slowly so you can build your confidence from where you are, not where you “should” be. It doesn’t matter where you were yesterday, what matters is where you are now. Then you slowly move forward. The break can make it ok to reset and start over.
A young boy observed a butterfly straining to emerge from a cocoon. He thought it was so cool and kept watching. He then noticed the butterfly appeared to be struggling and in pain and couldn’t get out. The boy carried it inside into the kitchen and brought out a pair of scissors. He carefully snipped the cocoon open and the butterfly was free. But the butterfly’s wings where misshapen. He later learned the struggle and pain the butterfly must endure emerging from the cocoon was necessary for it to fly.
Parents, take a deep breath and avoid the reactive impulse to rescue your children from disappointment
It could be the very thing they need to become the best they can be. As parents, we look at our kids and think that helping them just a little bit will deprive them of the struggle they need to grow into the human that is the best version of themselves. If you see your child in the struggle about to break out of that plateau, sometimes the best thing to do is to be that rock of unconditional love. You praise their effort and tell them they’re working so hard and that you’re proud of them. Then they will emerge. Those struggles are what turn them into the best versions of themselves.
Thanks for joining me today. Please feel free to reach out to me at CoachRebeccaSmith@gmail.com. Get your questions in so I can answer them next week. If you want more trainings like this or have specific questions and want one-on-one guidance, you can find me at PerformHappy.com. There, you can join the community of like-minded, sport parents and athletes with access to me all of the time for unlimited Q&A. I’m looking forward to speaking with you next week!