Today’s Topic: Staying Positive During Long Practices
Hi everyone! Welcome to Q&A with coach Rebecca. I am Rebecca Smith, founder of Complete Performance Coaching and the Perform Happy Community. I’m here for my weekly question and answer session where I answer questions from people in the Perform Happy Community and give you a little extra support.
My main purpose is to help young athletes age eight to 18 overcome fear, build confidence, and get their mojo back, or just unlock potential that wouldn’t otherwise be maximized. If you’re looking for one-on-one help, we have an amazing staff of coaches at your disposal. We also have a ton of “do it yourself” and “guided by me” online training options at performhappy.com.
Summer Vacation as an Athlete
I am really excited to tackle this question (below) that comes from a member in the community, a gymnastics mom. A little background – summer is the time when a lot of gymnasts are in heavy duty, intense, long practices with a lot of conditioning; they are getting geared up and into shape. I’m sure no matter what sport you’re in you can relate to the phases of training, and some of them are brutal.
During summer time, you’re in long training camps or you’re working five, six, seven days a week for as many as five to eight hours a day training, training, training because you’re not getting ready for active competition. You’re building strength, flexibility, endurance, stamina, and your coaches are pushing you to your absolute limit.
My Gymnastics Experience
I remember when I was a gymnastics coach, I loved summer! My mindset was, “Oh boy, I get to break these kids.” It was insane. When I look back, I remember being so excited, thinking, “We’re going to work so hard and you’re going to sweat so much,” and I thought of it that way because that’s what I had to go through when I was 12. It was payback time!
So, apologies to anybody who got that side of me. Just know your coaches get really excited when they finally have time to do all the things they want to do, to really toughen up their athletes mentally and physically. That’s the background on the following question.
Q: How to stay positive when getting tired? Summer practices are longer and harder for us. Feeling more aches and pains creates fear of injuries and exhaustion from “always being hurt”. When you are working that much above your typical training schedule, you’re going to be sore, you’re going to be tired and you are going to be putting yourself at risk for overuse injury.
While I’m not a doctor or a nutritionist, my specialty is helping you figure out how to handle the extra work mentally and how to advocate for yourself when you’re putting yourself at risk. That’s most of what I will address today. I will also touch on a couple of other things that are pretty important to have figured out.
I was just talking with a swimmer today who told me about one race that’s stressing her out right now – the 400 free. It’s stressing her out because the third 100 is so grueling. It’s a type of race that isn’t so long that you have to pace yourself, but it’s not short enough that you really have to go full out. There’s just a little bit of pacing.
There’s some good strategy involved in a race like that. For her, she gets scared because she wants to go all out and give it her all, but she doesn’t want to be completely burned out at the end. That’s a common swimming concern – how much do I push and how much do I conserve? It’s a good metaphor for what summer training is.
Strategy or Endurance?
Do you really push? Do you go all out to build endurance, strength, and flexibility? Or do you need to be strategic about it? For this swimmer I said, “What do you think?” That’s my first question whenever an athlete is wondering what they should do.
You’re the expert on you. You have raced that race, you have experienced that “I’m gonna die feeling”. So I asked, “What do you think?” She responded, “Well, that third 100 is when I’m always thinking, ‘Oh my gosh, I’m gonna die. This is so hard, I’m not going to make it.’ ” Those negative thoughts start to come up and that’s basically what happens when you are in these grueling practices and you start to get fatigued.
Burning Out Your Energy
The typical reaction is to start thinking, “This is so hard. Ouch, this hurts. My muscles are burning, I’m tired, and I don’t want to do this. There’s still two hours left. How am I going to get through this?”
This is an exercise I do with the kids I work with – if you sit there for 30 seconds and allow yourself to ruminate on all those negative thoughts, you will literally exhaust yourself in 30 seconds. Your whole body will lose energy. You’ll get bummed out and you will want to quit.
If you’re swimming or training and you’re having that sort of attitude, you are definitely not helping energize yourself at all. One of my biggest tips is going to be what you do with your mind that’s going to allow you to conserve energy and help you to get through it in the most efficient way possible.
Personal Growth Seminar Experience
I had this experience around 15 years ago when I took a personal growth seminar. It was all about unlocking your potential and pushing yourself to the limit. One of the experiential exercises that they had the group do was when they dropped us off at the base of a mountain in the desert, told us to climb, and had us walk up the mountain.
Of course I’m thinking, “I have exercise induced asthma. How can they do this without preparing?” Super negative thoughts, yet this was happening. There were people who had bum knees and were much older than me and people that were in way worse shape. Their mentality was, “All right, let’s do it,” and meanwhile I’m thinking, “This is going to be so hard, this is not what I signed up for, and this is not why I spent all this money.”
Facing a Big Challenge
As soon as you come up against a big challenge, you start to see what you’re made of; you start to see what your default is. You get into those hard sets at practice and you realize your default is negativity or not believing in yourself, or you rush to an excuse like exercise induced asthma, (something I’ve considered might be at least partially psychological). It’s my way of saying, “Oh, I can’t do it,” or “Oh gosh, I’m really hurting today.” This is also how your brain says, “Avoid the challenge. This is too much change.”
Being Alone in You’re head
When I started climbing that mountain, I was saying to myself, “Oh my gosh, this is so long and so hard,” and we weren’t allowed to talk to anybody. I had to just be quiet in my head, climbing this tall mountain, and I’m pretty sure it took a couple of hours straight up this hill. I had these different phases of suffering and not liking it and telling myself, “Hey, it’s okay. I’m outside. This is cool. I’m getting exercise. This is great. I’m going to get in shape.”
Then I had this moment where I became aware that I could either suffer or I could just walk. I could just put one foot in front of the other and just walk. Doing this, I became very present, and I decided to just look at the rocks, to listen to my steps, and to check out the leaves on the trees. I decided to be present for this experience.
I started walking and came up with a mantra in my head – get to the top and keep going, get to the top and keep going. It wasn’t just get it over with, it was just keep going. It didn’t imply that I needed to be done with it or that it was miserable or that I was suffering, it was just keep walking, one foot in front of the other, one step at a time and be really present with my surroundings in nature.
When I realized that this was available to me, I looked around and saw this beautiful landscape, beautiful trees, even the rocks became more beautiful and enjoyable along the way and I just kept walking.
Just Keep Swimming
We can learn from Dory when she sings, “Just keep swimming, just keep swimming”, and instead of wondering if it was over yet, I just kept walking. It became this thoroughly enjoyable experience where, yes, my heart was pounding, yes, my legs were tired, but I really enjoyed myself. I took away this huge Aha! of, “Okay, I don’t actually have to suffer,” which I think was part of the whole experience. So, I got my money’s worth. They dropped me off at a mountain and made me walk.
For those of you who are facing an insanely hard conditioning set or something that your coaches put in front of you, that they know is going to be so hard, just keep swimming. You can get to the top and keep going. I focused in on that and my physical surroundings and I got out of the negativity and it became pleasant.
Don’t Suffer in Your Head
That’s the first thing that I’ll bring up when you’re in a situation where you know you’re not going to hurt yourself, it’s just going to be hard. You know for sure it’s going to make your heart pound and you’re not necessarily going to enjoy it, but you’re going to be okay. You just focus in on a mantra.
During my first pregnancy, I was so tired in my first trimester. I was a Pilates rockstar beforehand and then I started going to Pilates and felt so weak. It wasn’t fun and I didn’t feel like I was getting strong. I realized I was spending my whole class whining in my head about how hard it was, which you might be doing if you’re suffering from injury or if you’re fatigued and you’re thinking, “Eh, I should be stronger than this. This sucks.”
You’re Healthy and Strong
I caught myself one day and told myself, “Hey, I am healthy and strong darn it!” So I went through the rest of my class going, “I’m healthy and strong, I’m healthy and strong, I’m healthy and strong. I’m doing the best I can.” Sometimes you just have to pick a mantra. You have to pick a little quick sentence that you can say over and over and over that grounds you in the fact that everything is okay. You’re not being tortured even though it might feel like it (depending on how wonderful your coach is at conditioning), but you can be grateful. You can be happy and you can be present.
Getting Over It
There was another gymnast whose coach used to punish the kids if they weren’t going for skills they were afraid of by giving them ten rope climbs or ten leg lifts. We decided, “Okay, you’re going to have ten gratitude leg lifts. You’re going to go over there, you’re going to grab onto the bar, lift your legs up, and for each time you lift your feet up, you’re gonna think I’m grateful for my cat, I’m grateful for my hair do, grateful for whatever it is that you’re grateful for in that moment. I’m grateful I can walk. I’m grateful for my family.
She started enjoying her leg lifts, not dreading being sent over to the bar, and then she wouldn’t tense up and get afraid which made it so she wasn’t blocking as much on her skills.
Come Up with a Mantra
It’s those little mindset shifts that you can decide on once you catch onto it. If your headspace is, “I’m doing leg lifts and I’m so mad at my coach. This is awful. Why is he making me do this?” You have to catch it and go, “Wait a second. That’s not useful. Let’s be grateful. Let’s be present. Let’s sing a song that’s totally unrelated to anything because at least it’s better than me grouching out in my mind over this.” That’s tip number one – come up with a mantra.
Now, on the topic of fear of injury. If you are overworking your body, if you are getting into fatigue and you are sore, that’s a breeding ground for mental blocks because your brain starts to feel uneasy. When you feel physically different, you feel weird, wobbly, or not as strong, then you are actually more at risk of injuring yourself.
So there’s the actual risk and then there’s the perceived risk. If you are afraid that you’re going to injure yourself, that actually increases your chances of injuring yourself. Fear of injury is one of the biggest precursors to injury because it makes you tense, it makes your heart pound, and it makes everything a little different, a little off, and less efficient.
Speak to a Professional
If you are worried in any way that you might be injuring yourself, talk to somebody who knows. If there’s a coach who’s also a physical trainer or somebody who you can trust and talk to when something doesn’t feel right, you have to speak up.
Communication is one of the three things that gets people out of the “fear of injury” cycle. First thing you have to do is mention it. “Hey coach, my ankle feels a little unstable today. What do you recommend?” Hopefully your coach will say, “Go wrap it” or “Go grab your brace.” If you have a history of injury and you have any kind of special equipment that can make you feel a little more secure and also give you that extra degree of stability, use it.
Bring your brace, bring your tape, bring whatever you’re going to need just in case. If you are working harder you don’t want to create an overuse injury. You also don’t want to perpetuate that cycle of actual injury.
Let Your Body Rest
Next, after making sure to check in with the physical side, you have to allow for rest and recovery. You must get enough sleep, major hydration, and eat extra food. If you’re training extra hours, you have to eat extra food. I think about my brother who was a level 10 gymnast, and how much he ate. It was insane. He ate five full, balanced meals with tons of protein every day when he was 12, 13, 14.
If you’re not eating enough, you’re going to end up with headaches. You’re going to be weak, you’re going to be more fatigued, and you’re going to be more at risk of actually injuring yourself. Bring extra snacks knowing that if your training is going up, your calories have to go up, your hydration has to go up, and ideally your sleep has to go up too.
Do’s and Don’t’s
I’ll finish up with just a couple of quick do’s and don’ts for this particular situation. If you are starting to feel like you’re at risk for injury, that you are overly fatigued, or that the negativity is not just in your head but it’s a legitimate concern, speak up. Don’t keep it to yourself. Don’t be a hero. That’s the number one don’t.
Make sure that you talk to somebody and at least air it out. Take note if nobody’s really giving you the right acknowledgement, which as a coach I’ve been guilty of. I’ve said, “You’re fine. Modify. Whatever. Hey, why aren’t you working harder?” Coaches forget, which is why you may have to take matters into your own hands and decide okay, I’m going to back off on this because this doesn’t feel quite right.
I’m going to check in with a chiropractor. I’m going to check in with the doctor. I’m going to check in with somebody who knows my body and knows if I’m safe.
Don’t ruminate over negative thoughts. As soon as you catch those thoughts, you have to stop them right in their tracks and give yourself something else to focus on. Don’t dwell on the risks.
My Bike Riding Experience
I was going for a bike ride while I was eight months pregnant. You are probably thinking that’s so dangerous, but I was fine until I saw a car getting close, got in my head, and had this image of horrible things happening.
I quickly thought, “I just need to look at the road, be safe, and move over,” and I even gave myself a moment to picture everything being fine. The car having good clearance, me getting on the sidewalk and getting home safe instead of tensing up and making strange decisions on my bicycle because I was stressed.
I caught that negative image and realized that wasn’t going to be useful. Getting myself on the sidewalk, taking a breath. picturing it going well – that was useful. Don’t think about what could go wrong and don’t picture it. Don’t picture what could go wrong and if you do, flip it to something better.
Do Take Precautions
If you might have a recurring injury, wrap it before you start. Get yourself prepared. Check with your doctor and communicate. Stop those negative thoughts by giving yourself something else to think about. Come up with a mantra, picture things going right, and take a moment to relax and breathe.
Do the things that we learned, that you have learned in the community, on how to relax your body and your mind. Just keep it positive. Go enjoy that brutal training because it is so good for helping you figure out what you’re really made out of.
If it brings up all this negativity and self doubt, then think, “Wow, how interesting.”
This is Your Summer
Let’s use this summer, this grueling training, as an opportunity to get that much better at catching the negatives, getting a good mantra in place, and building physical and mental endurance so that you will be ready to rock when competition season comes around.
Remember, you can always send your questions to Rebecca@performhappy.com. You can also join us at performhappy.com which is the only place you’re going to be able to work with me as of this coming Friday. I’m not going to be doing any one on ones while I get used to this new baby.
I will be available to the members the entire time. That is my commitment to you. If you want me, find me there. If you want one-on-one coaching with one of the other fabulous, amazing, well-educated sports psychology experts, you can find them here. I’ll see you next week!