Today’s Topic: How to Handle Frustration as an Athlete
Hi, everybody. Welcome to Q&A with Coach Rebecca. I am excited to be answering a question today from one of the Perform Happy Community members. This one is from a kid athlete, so I’m especially excited. Any of you kids who are listening, feel free to send me your questions.
Of course, everybody who’s in the community gets to ask me questions all the time in the “Ask Rebecca” forum and in the “Overcoming Fear” forum and I love it. It’s one of my very favorite things to do, is to go in there and see these successes like, “Coach Rebecca, I made my skill,” or, “What do I do about this?” Make sure you send your questions. It’s firstname.lastname@example.org so I can make sure and get to yours if you have something that you’re struggling with in sport.
Little background on me before I dive in. I am the founder of Complete Performance Coaching, which provides both one-on-one coaching and virtual group coaching for primarily young athletes, aged 8 to 18. Most of them are in individual sports like gymnastics and figure-skating, swimming, diving, but there are a lot of other sports too who benefit from our community and from our coaching.
If you’re not in one of those sports, don’t worry about it. If you need to perform under pressure, then you are in the right place, even if you’re not a kid. Hey, I’m here to help everybody. Then, there are also three other coaches on my team who are fabulous, phenomenal one-on-one coaches who are able to help you with all kinds of performance issues if that’s what you feel like you need.
All right, so here’s our question. It comes from a gymnast. She says,
Q: I always get super frustrated and then give up. How can I not give up?
Who here has ever get frustrated and wanted to give up? That’s part of life, but when you’re dealing with breaking through a wall like swimmers have that plateau. Gymnasts have that one skill. Everybody’s got that point of frustration where you’re like, “Oh, my gosh, if I fail one more time, I don’t think I can handle this.”
Focus on the Before
I’m going to give you guys some tips on what to do before. I always like to focus on the before of the meltdown, before the frustration hits, before the freakout. That’s where you really have control, long term, get things sorted out before it happens.
Then I’ll also tell you what to do in the moment and what to do after to make the most of every frustration, because really, every situation that happens in your sport career or even in your life, there’s a learning opportunity.
Failure Gives Room for Progress
Everyone’s rolling their eyes like, “Oh, an opportunity to fail. How great.” But it really is. That’s how you develop grit. That’s how you develop mental toughness is that you hit a wall. You fail. You fall apart, and then you dust yourself off and you get back up. The champions are the ones who get back up more times than the ones who don’t. If you’re failing and frustrated, cool. You’re on the right track. It’s part of the champion’s process.
Before you got frustrated, while you’re still calm, cool and collected at home with your mental toughness journal, some things that you can do to prepare are come up with what I call bounce-back routine.
You’re Bounce-Back Routine
This can be any number of things but I based this off of a professional golfer who was known to be a hothead. It was like this guy, if he missed a shot, he would throw his clubs. He was just like a fabulous phenomenal golfer who could not keep it together when he got frustrated. He would throw the whole match if he had a couple of bad holes.
What he learned was that he needed to blow off a little steam, and then he could reset and get back to it. For him, it was, “I get 10 steps to be mad.” He would walk from the hole back to his bag, stomping angrily, like, “Oh, I missed that. I can’t believe I made that mistake.” He gave himself permission to get mad for 10 steps. Then, he would put his club over his bag and as he let it go physically, he let go mentally and it was his reset and then it was brand new hole.
He got in that habit. I always recommend if you have any equipment that you can use for that purpose, prepare something in advance. Let’s say you’re going to bars and you’ve got grips and you just had the worst most frustrating rotation. You take off your grips. You zip them in your grip bag and at the end of that zip, it’s done.
Have Your Reset Routine Down Packed
I know girls who have had issues with the balance beam, walking, so they’ll get off the beam and take two breaths, feeling disappointed. This one girl in particular, she gets really disappointed in herself when she makes a mistake. She goes, “Ah,” two deep breaths of disappointment and at the end of the second one, she gets up. She does her little thing, her bounce-back routine, her reset routine and then it’s clean slate and she starts again.
Before you get frustrated, you want to know, when I get frustrated, this is what I’ll do. Swimmers, I love the warm down pool, you guys. We’re talking about the warm down pool all the time. You get in and you cry and you rage and you thrash and you just had a bad race. You give yourself that pre-determined like five laps to be super angry, disappointed, frustrated and then when you’re finished, you’re finished. You get out, the water drains off of you and you get a fresh start.
What Triggers Your Frustration?
Next race, what’s my next focus? This is what you’re doing beforehand as you’re planning for it. What are your triggers? What are the patterns? What gets you frustrated? Is it a particular event or a coach or a person or a skill? Know what it is and be ready for it and go, “Okay, when I do get frustrated, this is my choice of how I’m going to handle it,” which has this cool effect of making you not as frustrated because you know even if you got frustrated, you’re going to be okay. You’re going to be able to cope with it.
That’s beforehand. Another thing I just sort of mention is you got to know your triggers and your obstacles. You can even make a list of what are all the things that might come up and make you frustrated. All of those, I love writing a list like that. Then, with that list, you can then write another list next to it that says, “This is how I will deal with that, how I will deal with that, how I will deal with that.” It’s like a bunch of solutions and I would even say sit and get really creative, and force yourself to come up with three solutions for every potential obstacle that might come up and frustrate you.
See it as an Opportunity
Then, also, now, this is where you’ll really you want to roll your eyes but then write, “How can you be grateful for that situation, that obstacle? What will it do for you?” Why can you look back on it and go thank you. “Thank you, life, for throwing me this obstacle because it allowed me to become tougher, be more patient with myself, learn something I could teach somebody else.” Again, you’re going to have to be creative but if you can write those three lists, it’s going to set you up to where those obstacles are not going to feel so big. You’re going to be like, “I already have a solution and this is going to be helpful for me. Thank you, life, for throwing it my way.”
We’re still in the prep phase. Then, my big thing, that I’m always talking about in the parent Facebook group for the members of the community, is to praise progress and effort, and if you are focused on outcomes, you are a lot more likely to get frustrated than if you are focusing on progress and effort.
Focus on Progress and Effort
Now, I don’t mean progress from where you should be or where your friends are. I mean, progress from where you were when you showed up today, with the amount of sleep you got last night, with the amount of stress on your plate right now. From there, then you make progress forward.
A lot of us high achievers get in the bad habit of feeling like we’re failing, if we’re falling short to where we should be compared to whatever benchmark. But you’re not falling short if you’re moving forward especially if you’re running on empty. Any progress counts so you have to be in the habit of thinking, “This practice was frustrating and awful and I wish I didn’t even get out of bed this morning to come.” But it’s all putting money in the bank for confidence. I made it through another day. I built strength. I built mental endurance. This is just part of the process. I have up days and down days.
You got to plan ahead to be thinking in terms of “try your best, show up, do your best and just let it go if it wasn’t a good one,” because there’s always benefits that you’re gaining. Think big picture.
Where Are Your Feet?
When you’re in the moment, let’s say you just got super frustrated. I’m going to use hands and feet as kind of a memory jogger here. You’re going to stop and ask yourself where are my feet? A lot of the time we’re up in this, “What if? Oh, my gosh, if I don’t get this and if I don’t do that, then I can’t compete and I won’t be able to get a job and ah, future.”
Where are your feet? Or you’re going to the past of what happened last time? And, “Oh, my gosh, it’s happening again. I’m never going to get better and I’m so hopeless.” Where are your feet? Your feet are here under your body standing on a mat, or they’re sitting in a chair, or wherever they are. Take a second to just check in with your physical body. Where are my feet? Where are my hands? Here they are. I got all these fingers that work well. This is good.
Take Time to Breathe
Then, you breathe. Breath is the quickest fix for almost every problem, because it brings you out of your head and into your body. You take a second and you breathe. Where are my feet? For some people, senses can be a really good way to root yourself back in reality, out of the what if’s, out of the future or the past and you just go, okay, like naming things in the room if you’re really stressed or just kind of like looking around or listening. Ground yourself in what’s really going on and get yourself out of that overthinking place where the cause of the frustration comes from.
Then we’re going to use our hand and then think of five things that you can be grateful for in this moment, and this is hard. That’s why I’m giving you like reminders because when you’re in the frustration place, you pretty much just go on and freak out and leave. But where are my feet? One thing for each finger for gratitude. I have fingers. It’s always a good one if you’ve got them. I got to keep practicing. My parents love me. I like my dog. I get to go and eat dinner.
5 Things You’re Grateful For
If that’s what you can come up with, five things that just shift you out of that pessimistic mindset and into the positive, and there’s actually a bunch of science that shows that this changes your brain chemistry if you get in the habit of being grateful. Where are my feet? Five things, one for each finger that you’re grateful for, and then move your feet. Take action. The question you want to ask yourself is what’s one thing I can do in this moment that will make this situation better, one thing.
Now, you might not be able to follow through with exactly the skill that you’re trying to do, but you can pick one thing. Maybe it’s a drill or a progression, or it’s asking for help, or it’s asking a question, or it’s taking a break, or it’s going to get a drink. What’s one thing I can do right now to take action that will make this situation better, that will make this situation improve? Those are the things to do in the moment with the frustration. Where are my feet? One thing for each finger that you’re grateful for, and move your feet. Take some action that’s going to help you feel a little bit better in the moment.
Afterward, I want you guys to reflect. I think everybody should have a mental toughness journal where you’re keeping track after each practice, good or bad, amazing or horrible. You ask, “What went well?” That’s along the same lines as gratitude. What went well? What were some accomplishments? There’s always something good. No matter what, you can find it. I promise you, you can find something good.
Then, again, you’ll write down your gratitude. Then, you can look at what could have gone better, and what did I learn from it. And then, you’ll know, then you can loop right back up to the top of the before. You come up with a bounce back routine. What did I learn? I need a bounce back routine for this situation. Great. Let’s come up with one. What did I learn? If I approach it this way, I get really frustrated. Good to know. What did I learn when this coach does this to me? It’s a big trigger, so I need to have a plan for that.
How to Handle Frustration
That’s how you handle frustration in a nutshell, and for those of you guys who have more questions, please join us in the Perform Happy community. The doors are open. It is an amazing one-stop shop for mental toughness training. We have live trainings every single week where I’m teaching you guys something awesome based on the current needs of the kids and the adults, the athletes in the community.
We also have a full stock of courses on overcoming fear, finding your flow, mental toughness boot camp, automatic self-trust. There are these incredible courses that are all based on my one-on-one work with athletes that works over and over and over. I packaged it all up and have it for you guys to go use at your convenience. If you want to join us there, performhappy.com. And I will see you again next week. Thanks for joining me.
I have a question coming through before we go.
Q: “You give such good advice, but my daughter won’t watch the videos, won’t do the journals, and I’m trying to stay out of frustration.” How can we apply this to mom?
Mom, where are your feet? I’m not trying to be flippant here. I’m just trying to reinforce. Where are your feet? Five things to be grateful for about your daughter, and then what’s one thing that you can do right now to make it better.
Maybe it’s self-care. Maybe it’s taking a break. Perhaps that’s all we can do because I always have kids and parents look at what can you control and what can you not control? Kids, you can’t control your parents. Parents, unfortunately, you can’t control your kids. What can you control? You might even write a list of what are the things that I can control in this situation, and then commit to those are what I’m going to focus on: My attitude, my efforts, my communication skills.
Be Grateful, Be There
Are you giving her anything that she’s pushing back against? And really it’s like the whole you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make him drink. And if you just continue to establish yourself as a neutral, supportive present mom who has no judgment. I know this is like advanced level parenting stuff, who just wants to be supportive in any way possible even if that means backing off, then eventually, you will have created a safe space where she can come to you and say, “Mom, what do I do?” Then you’ll go, “Oh, I have some ideas.”
But in that case, you’ll still want to say, “What do you think you should do?” And then you let her go, “Well, maybe I should look at some of those things you suggested at one point.” Some parents just listen to the podcast in the car on the way to gym. That’s the way to go, so if you haven’t tapped into the podcast, it’s the same as the live videos every week. But just be listening to a podcast. But of course, if she’s rolling her eyes and be like, “Okay, okay,” back to Miley Cyrus or whatever we’re listening to.
I hope that helps. I know it’s frustrating, but hang in there. You’re a good mom, and she’s got you to lean on. It’s a matter of like you got your feet where they are. Be grateful for the things that are good. And then see what can you do to make it better. Maybe it’s not going to like change the world today, but progress. You’ll get there.