Today’s Topic: Managing Stress and Staying Focused
Hi everybody. I’m coach Rebecca Smith, founder and director of Complete Performance Coaching, here for my weekly song and dance about all things performance and sport confidence. Today is going to be a good juicy one.
I’ve received some great questions about stressors outside of sport: school, bullies, drama. This stuff is in the forefront for most of my clients – athletes age eight to eighteen. Primarily they’re about eleven to fifteen, an age I absolutely adore working with.
It’s super ironic because that was absolutely the hardest period of my life, no question. Eleven to fifteen was super hard. I had a lot of transitions going on in life. I had a new school, family changes were happening, I got the hormonal craziness; all of this on top of trying to figure out who I was as an individual.
This is a time when you’re trying to separate from your parents and people who don’t share your values. Meanwhile, you’re also trying to be a part of something. You’re trying to find out where you fit, who you are, and what’s important to you, asking yourself where you belong (if anywhere) or if you just don’t fit in at all.
It is not the most fun stage of life. Now, if you’re 12 and you think you’re life is awesome, then girlfriend, that’s great. But if you’re wondering why everything is so hard, then I relate to you. If you’re somewhere in between, that’s great too.
Maternity Leave Update
I’m going to answer some questions from members of the Perform Happy Community which is my super awesome community full of amazing parents who care about their kids. They want to be saying the right things and avoiding the wrong things. The community is also full of very motivated athletes who want to sharpen their confidence so they can go out and do their very best and not be overrun by fear.
You can join us here, and the doors are open. We’d love to have you. I’m going on maternity leave in a month, but I will be in the community. That is my commitment. I’m going to stay connected there, but I’m stepping out from one-on-one coaching in about a month. Don’t worry! You can still find me online.
Here are our questions for the week. One comes from Jen who asks,
Q: My daughter is 15, a freshman in high school. She has had a mental block on all back tumbling on and off for two years. Recently she’s made progress in the gym, and is slowly regaining tumbling. She’s slowly regaining her tumbling, however, it’s finals week at school. The stress level is high, and she is tired. Suggestions on how to manage all of this and minimize the damage to her recent successes in the gym?
First of all mom, good job being aware that this might be a potential stressor. That’s something we want to know about ourselves. As athletes, and as parents of athletes, we want to know when we are coming up against something stressful. She’s not sleeping, as much as she needs to. What do we do?
Second of all, I am a huge fan of the slow rebuild because that’s what sticks. These spurt and crash. type of recovery from fear is temporary. The slow, steady rebuild, that’s the good stuff, because it lasts.
Cut Yourself Some Slack
The most important thing right now is that you are in finals and you are up to your eyeballs in stress. Most of the athletes that I work with are perfectionists and people pleasers. Cut yourself some slack. This might be a week where the tumbling does not improve at a magical rate, or this might be a week where you just try to maintain. Your number one priority needs to be sleep.
Get Enough Sleep
I talk a lot about sleep with my athletes because it’s probably the most underrated mental toughness technique. If you’re not getting enough sleep, your brain doesn’t have the capacity to do the things you have to do to stay confident.
You can’t focus as well and you feel unsafe because you are unsafe if your body isn’t running on full, high octane. You have to manage time wisely to prioritize sleep during these times. If that means you’re not able to put all of your energy into your sport for just that week, again, cut yourself some slack.
When dealing with fear, you must be consistent. You have to be making numbers, every single day ideally, or at least five days a week.
You don’t want to procrastinate, thinking you can come back to it in a week or just avoid it. You do have to be putting numbers in. Now, you might have to consider that if you haven’t been rested, your mind is in a million different places and your brain is tired, you start back a step. Focus on and easier progression to get your numbers done, just to make it a little easier on yourself.
Ideally, you have everything written out and you can compartmentalize. That is my favorite word for dealing with school homework stress – compartmentalize. Put your school in a compartment and leave it outside. Unless you’re actually going to be leaving early to do something for school, you probably won’t perform better in practice by stressing out all evening on what you have to do when you get home.
Write a To-Do List
Since I’m guessing that’s not going to help you, I suggest you write it out. Make a to-do list of all the stuff you need to get done before bed that night. When you’re done, fold it up and put it in the glove box or your backpack, somewhere safe, then get out of the car and go to practice. Now, anytime you start to think about what’s due, what you have to work on, or what you haven’t done, you can remind yourself that it’s written down and you won’t forget about it. This way you can focus on practice and let go of your homework stress.
This will also work when you catch yourself thinking about not getting any sleep because of how much work you have to do. Simply take a minute to remind yourself it’s all written down and it will get done. You’re not leaving practice early, so you might as well not worry about it and finish your practice strong and safe.
I love writing stuff down, especially when I’m so overwhelmed with everything that needs to get done. So I suggest getting out a calendar and writing down exactly what you’ll do each day. Then, you can say, “Okay, I’m just going to do today because tomorrow is scary and the next day is super overwhelming. Today I’ll buckle down and get these three things done and go to bed.” Just let the next day be the next day.
If you write it out and you realize there actually isn’t enough time for you to get done what you need to get done, then you can make adjustments. Maybe you leave early, or maybe you work it out with your coach that you can do an extra practice on the weekend. Whatever it is, make sure that you’ve got it written out so you’re not just assuming you have an overwhelming amount of things to get done and you don’t actually know exactly what you need to get done. It always seems scarier than it is.
Okay. Moving along to the next question. Laurie says,
Q: It seems inevitable that social issues will creep into a sport and have a direct affect on our athletes. My daughter’s once very tight gymnastics group is becoming plagued with jealousy and overall nastiness. Thankfully my daughter doesn’t dwell on it. However, I do see it raising her anxiety, which directly affects her tumbling. We talk a lot, and I’m grateful she confides in me, but I can see it beginning to take a toll on her confidence. Any words of wisdom to help keep the fire lit and not fall victim to the nonsense?
My two clients after Laurie asked this question today. Both were talking about fear of embarrassment and fear of jealous and bullying. One of them asked, “Why does the drama seem to follow me everywhere?” And she was answered herself saying, “Oh my gosh. This is the source of my insecurity. My lack of confidence. My stress.”
I am constantly amazed at what these 12 and 13 year old girls can identify in themselves things I didn’t get until I was 25. They’re realizing their fear of being embarrassed, different, or left out makes them sabotage themselves or brings on fear and triggers. These are girls in lots of different sports, but it’s all the same stuff with the same age.
I’m going to give you all a super fast crash course for athletes on what to do with the drama, and then parents – how to help them.
Something to consider is that when we’re dealing with fear, there are multiple threats to safety. There are physical threats, relationship threats, and social threats. Those are what we’re going to talk about right now.
This is not physical. A lot of the time it will manifest as these mental blocks that seem like you are afraid of getting hurt. You are, but it’s not a physical pain. It’s a social, emotional, relationship pain. For example, if you find yourself out at the front succeeding, and the mean girl who’s insecure doesn’t like it, she could make your life a living hell, and you know it.
Because of that, you, at some subconscious level, are holding yourself back. I’ve had this little voice in my head, one of my little negative belief systems which is that it’s lonely at the top. You don’t want to be to successful because then people won’t like you. You don’t want to be too good at that because then they’re going to want to pick you apart, and then you’ll be a target, and you’ll be vulnerable. Maybe they realize it, maybe they don’t, but many other athletes have a similar thought. So, here’s what they can do.
You have to do a reality check on the stories you’re telling yourself. If you’re telling yourself it’s lonely at the top and everybody’s going to be concerned about you, then you have to turn it around and ask who this everybody is? Can you really think of anyone who is so concerned with you that they would see your success and be mad at you? Probably not. Check your stories. You are making things up in your head. If it’s not useful, let it go. It’s easier said than done, but check your stories and see if you are telling the truth. Is it possible that it’s false? If so, see if you can just cleanly let it go.
Also, avoid comparison thinking. Whenever you compare yourself to somebody else, are you usually coming out on top? I’m guessing no. As humans, we’re not usually thinking, “I’m so wonderful, and so are they. This is great.” We’re thinking, “I could take him.” Or, “She’s smarter than me.” Or, “Oh, they like her better.” We are constantly going through the world judging.
Let it Go
If you compare yourself to others, you’re likely giving yourself the short end of the deal. Just see if you can catch it, and let it go. Just like the stories. You don’t need to compare yourself to them because you are different. You’re apples and oranges. She learns that way, you learn this way. She’s good at this, you’re good at that. It’s not the same. You’re you and she’s her. You’re better off just allowing that to be, and letting it go.
Tune into Your Body
This is one of my favorite techniques for emotion in general. When you start to get angry, frustrated, insecure, or shy, ask yourself, “Where do I feel this? Is it in my heart? Is it in my stomach?” Then tune in. This is the opposite of what you’ll probably want to do. You’ll want to lash out or have some kind of a reaction, but if you can tune inward, it allows you to gain a little control over what’s going on, then it allows you to let it simmer. That’s the first thing to do.
If I’m in traffic and I get mad, instead of driving like a jerk or yelling. I stop, and tune in. If I’m feeling this anger in my belly, I take a break. I realize everybody’s okay, I proceed, breathe, and stay calm. Just like I said – give it a pause. Don’t talk about it while you’re freaking out. Come back to it in a minute. If parents and athletes are fighting, see if one of you can have the maturity to say, “Can we come back to this in 15 minutes? Can we just walk away, set a timer, and come back in 15 minutes?”
That’s something my husband is phenomenal at. He’ll say, “Hold on.” Well I’m wanting to get into it. I want to make him feel bad because my feelings are hurt. But he’ll say hold on, we’ll walk away, and then after some time come back together. This gave us time to acknowledge our part in the situation, which we discuss, and then we hug it out. Taking a pause is so powerful.
Take a Break
You can always focus on what’s going wrong, but I always say pull out your five fingers and count five things you’re grateful for. Even if the drama is bad, the people are mean, and life is hard, you can always come up with five good things to be grateful for.
Also, just know that the more that you’re working on your own confidence – being comfortable in your skin, being you, knowing that you are who you are and hat’s what you’ve received, the more validated you will feel. That way, if somebody else doesn’t like it, you’re okay with yourself and it’s not going to matter. But if you’re insecure and you don’t feel good, you’re going to need everybody’s validation and you’re not going to get it. This will make you feel awful and you’ll want to lash out.
It’s got to be all about this journey towards self-acceptance – that you are exactly who you’re supposed to be. For whatever reason, you came as you. Now what? How do we make the best of it? I had this aha moment where I asked myself, “Who am I to say that I got put here messed up?” That I was somehow this one defective person that arrived on the planet and everybody else was made just right, but they really screwed this one up. Who am I to say that? That I’m not exactly who I’m supposed to be to fulfill whatever my purpose is.
You might not get down with my brand of spirituality. Who am I to say that I’m not just right? Flaws and all. It makes me feel better at least.
Have an Inner Circle
Another strategy for you athletes is to come up with who’s your inner circle. I like to draw the target logo, and then right in the middle, you write down who your people are. The people that you can trust and be completely vulnerable with who know you’re safe with.
Then, in the next one, you write the people who you’re pretty safe with, but you’re not going to give them a 100% of your bad day. Then there’s the people who you might invite to your party, but they don’t really know you. And lastly you have the people who you just have to be respectful of and be kind to. You don’t tell your secrets to them. You say, “Wow nice shirt.” And then you go about your day. Even if you’re feeling horrible, they’re not the people who you go to.
Now look at that and realize that people are always moving in and out. You get to know somebody, they move in. Somebody breaks your trust, they move out. These relationships are not a static thing, but you know who’s in the middle, for today. It might change tomorrow, but you know who’s in the middle, and you give them your power. That’s it. Nobody else gets your power. You don’t give your power to the outside ring. Unfortunately, most of the time, that’s who you guys are giving your power to.
Focus on what you Need To
That mom of that other figure skater over there, who happens to blah, blah, blah, who cares? Who are these people you’re so worried about impressing? If you’re people in the middle love you and care about you, you’re going to be okay. Even if they don’t, you will find a new inner circle.
That’s who you give that vulnerability to, but don’t. You go do you. You go be successful. If they don’t like you, it’s okay. You have your people.
Sometimes it’s just so important to say, “Not my people. You, you’re my people. I care about what you think. If you think I’m making a bad decision, I’m going to listen to you. If you do, I don’t really care, because you’re not my people.” Obviously you want to show respect and kindness, but sometimes you just have ask why you’re giving your power to all of the people on the outside, especially when there aren’t the people who really know you or who make you feel safe. They aren’t even people you can trust.
Dealing with Bullies
I’ve talked about this in one of the Perform Happy Community parents only Q&A’s. Here are some quick strategies: avoid the bully, use the buddy system, act brave, walk away, be neutral, and be boring. If you’re the target of a bully, be boring, don’t react. Surround yourself with other people and don’t give them anything to work with, then tell an adult immediately.
If you are being harassed by somebody on your team or somebody in school, an adult has to know, otherwise they can’t help you. When I was a coach, I had a girl’s mom come and tell the head coach that somebody was getting picked on. I was like, “No. Not her. She’s so sweet. There’s no way.” And the second I started to tune my radar in to what was going on, I could see it. If the adult doesn’t know, then they can’t help. If something is going on, tell them right away.
I will put a blurb up in the community on what parents can do as well, so please come over to performhappy.com. to check it out. I will see you again soon. Thanks for joining me.