Today’s Topic: What to do when you feel like you’ve blown it
Hi and welcome to Q&A with Coach Rebecca. Today’s topic is going to be about what to do when you feel like you’ve blown it, because I’ve gotten quite a few emails in the last couple of days about people who did not have the best State Meet and now they are feeling it. So, before I dive in, I’ll introduce myself if this is our first time meeting.
I’m Coach Rebecca Smith, and I’m a high performance coach, specializing in ages 8 to 18, particularly individual sports.
I help kids identify the mind-body connection and strengthen it so that they can reach peak performance and maximum enjoyment. I do this in a couple of ways:
- Through one-on-one coaching sessions over FaceTime or Skype.
- Through my online mental toughness training center at PerformHappy.com.
Those are the two ways you can get me if you want more stuff like this.
Let’s dive into our first question.
I always prioritize Perform Happy community members, so if they ever send me a question and I want to respond in a more thorough way, I’ll usually answer it here. And then, also, if you guys are live and have questions, then feel free to put those in and you guys’ll get second priority. Then, otherwise, shoot me an email and then it goes on the list. As I get through the questions, I will, hopefully, be able to get to yours too.
Q: What should I do if every teammate qualifies for Regionals but me?
For our first question, somebody asked me for advice when every teammate qualifies for Regionals and you are the only one who didn’t. “I messed up horribly on one event. It wrecked it for myself. Sat in a circle as my coach passed out all the Regional leos in front of me and I am crushed.” This is a gymnast, by the way. “Sure, I’m happy for my teammates but I cannot compare to them. I’m the lowest scoring gymnast but I try hard every day. I messed up. Now, I go to the gym and watch them prepare for Regionals and I’m just there doing the same stuff to take my turn. They’re not interested in me.
Why would they be? I just go through the motions before Regionals. Not sure what I’m going to do that weekend that my entire team and all my friends will be competing. Gymnastics has been my life for 13 years. Maybe it’s time to admit to myself it’s time to leave.”
So I got this email a few days ago and I was like, “Let me tackle it live because I have so many thoughts about it.” And then I got a couple more emails of people in the same general situation. They just feel like they fell short and they almost don’t want to keep going. And it made me think: Every time there’s a big cut in swimming, or there’s a big meet in gymnastics, I hear of one, two, five, seven kids who want to quit. And these are kids who’ve put their entire life into training for their sport.
Don’t give up
I know swimmers who’ve swam since they were two. They go up through high school, then they’re the only one who doesn’t get to get on the plane and go to the big meet and they want to quit.
I’ve seen this happen twice, personally, where they didn’t get the cut they needed and they couldn’t handle it.
They felt like they didn’t want to be there. They didn’t want to look at those kids with the fancy “I went to Orlando” cap because they didn’t have one.
Or the gymnast didn’t want to go to the gym and see the girls running around in their Regionals leos when they didn’t get one.
It can be really hard to know what to do next.
When you’re not having fun, and it doesn’t feel good, and you’ve worked so hard just to get let down, it feels like there’s nothing left to do.
I’m going to give some advice, first to athletes, then to parents, then to coaches. So, for any of you guys listening, hopefully I’ll cover a little bit for everybody. And, if you have other questions, feel free to type them in, or comments. I would love to engage with you.
My recommendations for athletes, is to use it as a learning experience. (I know it sounds hokey, but stay with me)
You can always look back and go, “All right. I made this big mistake.” And if all you do is look at that and go, “I’m a failure. Oh well. What’s the point?” Then, yeah, that was a failure. Then that’s the end of the story. You failed and now you’re a failure. Off you go.
Move past your mistakes and failures
That sounds super harsh, but here’s the other option. You can go, “Okay, I made a mistake. I know what I need to do to prevent that mistake from ever being made again or at least to decrease the chances of that mistake being made.” You can probably look back and go, “Well, this I could have done differently. I could have done this differently. My mindset was like this. I had expectations up to here and was really nervous. I didn’t get enough sleep…” etc.
You can always look back and piece it together and go, “Why didn’t that work the way I had planned?” And then, you can change it. Then, next year at State, you go, “I got enough sleep and practiced those turns. I do what I need to do to make sure that there’s no repeat performance like that.” And then, it’s not a failure. It’s just a step along the way to success. I know, hokey, but seriously true. It’s all about the way you look at it.
Putting it into perspective
When you are up there at the State Meet (and not everybody qualified to the State Meet) and you are the worst one on your team, does that mean that you’re bad or does it mean that other people are great?
In this situation I think about Ricky Bobby in Talladega Nights when he says, “If you’re not first, you’re last.”
Well, that mentality is not one that’s going to give you longevity in sport. That’s one that going to beat you into the ground, that if you don’t get to Regionals, then what’s the point? If you don’t win State, what’s the point? Well, that’s a good question. What is the point? Why do you do it?
I’m guessing that you didn’t sign up to do gymnastics when you were four years old because you wanted to win level 9 Regionals.
I’m guessing that’s not why you started doing it. It’s probably because you like to swing and you like to jump and you like to punch and you like your friends… And those are probably things that you still have, even if you don’t get to go to Regionals.
Why do you do it?
And, of course, for some of you guys, you’re training for 13 years, you’re like, “Actually, no. This is the only reason I do it anymore, because I need to get into college, and I’ve got these expectations up to here, etc..
If I’m not going to reach these expectations, then what is the point?” And that’s the question I ask you. What is the point? Why do you do it? For you swimmers, why do you get in the pool at 5AM every morning? Why do you do that? Probably not just to go to Orlando.
It’s probably because your friends are there. There are reasons why you do it and you can’t lose sight of them just because you’re upset or you’re now comparing yourself to everybody else. This is a perfect example on what to do when you feel like you’ve blown it.
What’s the value of sticking out?
That’s my question to you: what’s the value of sticking it out? What would you be missing if you didn’t do it anymore? What wouldn’t be there anymore?
When you’re doing a sport like this at the elite levels, and you’re invested in this, or even at the recreational level, there’s something that keeps you going. So my request for you is that you figure out how you find meaning and enjoyment in it for its own sake.
When you get up on the beam, are you on the beam only to win Regionals?
No. You’re on the beam to perfect your skills, to gain mastery, to experience yourself.
Who am I when I’m on a winning streak? Who am I when I’m on a losing streak? Do I like the person that I am or do I want to be something different? Do I want changes to happen and do I want to keep improving?
Yeah, probably. Not just, “will I go to Regionals?”
I know I’m like a broken record on that but that’s a lot of why we do anything. If I can pull weeds in my backyard and find experience and enjoyment and self-discovery and meaning in just pulling weeds, then I can do that in practice, in competition, on a good day, on a bad day.
I have a friend who used to always say, “Chop wood. Carry water. Carry water. Chop wood,” something like that. For the longest time I was like, “what does that even mean??”
Essentially this: Have a good day? Do what you have to do. Have a bad day? Do what you have to do. Move on. Keep doing what you’re doing and find meaning and enjoyment in everything, not just the wins. That’s the key and that is the difference between an elite athlete and a non-elite athlete. Before Regionals, chop wood carry water. After Regionals, chop wood, carry water.
Q: What do I do when my coach yells at me when I make a big mistake at an important meet?
Develop a filter
Here’s a little tip that I got from Michael Gervais – a guy I really look up to in the sport psychology field. He was the sport psychologist for the Seahawks. A fantastic and really smart guy. He recommends that athletes develop a filter.
There was a girl that made a big mistake on one of her events and her coach, at the meet, started pointing his finger at her and yelling at her. He was putting her down and she’s in tears because he’s like, “You are a disappointment and you messed up. How dare you? You’re not even listening. What’s the point of even giving you corrections?” And he was giving her that whole discussion that she’s, basically, having in her head already and just upping it to the Nth degree. So when you’re in that place, you’ve got to develop a filter.
So, for example, if your coach is saying to you, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe you made that mistake again. All you need to do is get your chest up on the board of the vault. But if you don’t ever do that, you’re never going to be able to get to the next level. You’re never going to get this. What is the point of me even coaching you if you’re not listening?”
Listen for the things that will help you become a better athlete
So what a person with a filter would hear is not the things that put you down and make you feel like it’s impossible, but you hear, “Get your chest up on the board,” and that’s it. You listen for the things that will help you become a better athlete. You take those in and absorb them and, then, all the other stuff that takes the possibility out, that takes the fun out, that takes the goodness out, you just let those bounce off your filter. Because there are things that come out of your coach’s mouth that are helpful.
“Okay, and that bar routine, if you would have done what I asked you to do, you big dumb idiot,” or whatever the coach is saying. “But the thing I asked you to do is lean your shoulders over and push.” So you just go, “Okay, lean your shoulders over, push. Got it.” Let go of all the rest of the stuff. Just filter it out because elite athletes, the top athletes, it’s not that they don’t get criticized…
Everybody gets criticized. We get criticized at youth, in high school, in college. We get criticized in pro.
There is so much criticism coming at high level athletes that you’ve got to develop a filter and you’ve got to develop it young so that, when your coach comes at you with something nasty like that, it’s a practice for your filter. “All right, filter up. What do I need to get? Okay, point your toes. Cool. Moving on.” Don’t take it all to heart.
Parents, what is the importance of sport from your perspective?
Moving on to parent suggestions. What is the importance of sport from your perspective? Why do you do it? Why do you even sign your kid up and pay the tuition? Well, my guess is one of probably three things. You want your child to:
1. Have fun
2. Develop character – that’s probably the biggest one
3. Be physically active – Get some of that energy out. Give them something to do so that they’re not just running around crazy in your house.
That’s why I put my kid in sports – I want her to work hard and learn, learn about herself, have fun, be active, and develop character.
So, when things don’t go so well, she learns how to handle things in school and beyond. So your job is to support those things. And, if they have any of them, if they have fun, or they develop character, or they get some physical activity, there’s a win. If you get two, even better. If you get three, that’s what we’re really aiming for.
Praise effort, not outcome
But your job, as a parent, is to focus on those things. And something I say all the time but it bears repeating is that you’ve got to praise effort and not outcomes. Because a lot of this, a lot of what starts this whole issue, is that we are so outcome-focused as coaches, as parents, as a culture: “Go out there and win. Score a goal and we’ll get you ice cream.” It’s like, “If you do something great, then we’ll reward you.”
But what if you show up and you work your butt off and you make a mistake and you don’t make it?
Well, parents, it’s your job to say, “Wow. You’ve worked so hard this season. I’m so proud of you,” instead of “Oh gosh. You really screwed that one up.” They’re thinking that already. I guarantee you. So you don’t ever have to say that.
You don’t ever have to point out what they’ve done wrong, the mistake that they’ve made, what they could have done better. Believe me. They already know. So your job is to go, “Wow. You’ve worked really hard. Let’s go have some lunch.”
What others think about us is not important
Another thing for parents: We know, as adults, it doesn’t matter that much what people think of us.
When you’re 12, or 14, or 16, it’s pretty much life and death if somebody doesn’t like you. It’s hard to feel like you’re not liked, like you’re not perfect. It’s hard to feel like people think of you negatively. “If I fail, if I don’t make it, my coach is going to think… My parents are going to think this… My teammates are going to think this… I’m the only one… People are going to think that I’m so bad.” Well, we know, as adults, that what people think of us is actually not that important.”
It’s really not that important because:
1. We can’t even really realistically predict what they think, so we’re just making up stories in our head anyway.
2. Who cares? If somebody doesn’t like me, that’s okay. I could still like me. My husband still likes me. The kid likes me, hopefully. So not making it such a big deal about being liked is something that you guys can help with. Of course, it’s a life-long process with that.
Help them remember their commitment to their teammates
Finally, for parents, help them remember their commitment to their teammates. And, of course, my friend who sent in this question, she said, “Yeah, I’m really happy for my teammates.” But it’s good to really dwell on that. If you’re showing up in the gym like this: “Why am I even here? Everybody’s better than me,” you’re sure not helping them get ready for their competition. And, if the tables were turned and one of your teammates was over there huffing and puffing, that would be a bummer, especially if you’re like, “Gosh. I feel bad. She’s my friend. I wish she was going and now…”
Coaches, put emphasis on effort
Okay so now onto coaches. One thing that I recognized when I worked with a swim team was that, these coaches who have coached Olympians and very high level athletes, they saw that a certain type of person was motivated by the outcome:
“You’ve got to win. You’ve got to qualify and get this time. You can do it. Get a new team record.”
They were really all about outcomes, which is pretty normal and something that motivates some people. But that was about half the team. Half the team was motivated by outcomes because they were actually reaching these outcomes, which is a combination of they were thinking positively, they were taller, they were stronger, etc.
And then there’s these other kids that are not as motivated by outcomes and they’re not getting the outcomes, so it’s like this two-fold problem: there’s half the team that feels bad about themselves and half the team that’s strutting around like they’re hot stuff.
So half of your team is having a bad time because there’s so much focus on outcomes. Whereas, if it was about effort, this half that’s not making it, they’re working. Well, they were working hard until they realized that they weren’t in that upper group so what’s the point anyway? So if you can put more emphasis on effort, then it’s definitely going to be a win for everybody.
Accept where you fall and move forward
What’s better: being the best kid on a losing team or being the worst kid on a winning team?
Sometimes you get moved up to a group and you’re the worst one in a really good group or you don’t get moved up and that’s a bummer and then you’re the best one in a group of kids who don’t really care.
Either way, there are pros and cons so it’s kind of about embracing, as an athlete, it’s embracing where you end up because there are benefits to both.
If you’re the best one in the group, you get to be the leader.
If you’re the worst one in the group, you get to work your tail off and have something to aspire to. So instead of going, “Well, this is the worst case, this is the worst case,” you just accept where you fall and move forward.
And then coaches, make sure you’re not doing anything to divide the team. Kids are crafty and slippery and slimy with each other, especially girls. They’re so underhandedly dramatic. So just do your best to not do anything as far as outcomes to divide the team any further. And then coaches, don’t say anything that’s going to need to get filtered out. Don’t say the things like, “I’ve told you this a hundred thousand times.” Just say, “Hey, kid. Get your chest up on the board. Good try.” It’s easier said than done but that’s definitely what I recommend.
That’s the end of today’s Q&A session. You guys feel free to send your questions to firstname.lastname@example.org. If you want to join us at PerfomHappy.com we are taking members right now.
I am looking forward to coming back next week. Bye!