Today’s Topic: Overcome the Fear of Talking to Your Coach
Hi everyone, I’m Coach Diana with Complete Performance Coaching. I work with athletes from all sports, ages nine through college, but my background is in gymnastics. My gymnastics background is actually what got me into sports psychology.
Today, I am going to spend some time talking about helping athletes get over the fear of talking to their coach.
Talking to Your Coach
Athletes having fear around talking to their coach is something that comes up a lot in practice. I hear so many athletes being nervous, scared, or intimidated to approach their coaches about anything.
In my opinion, I feel like it’s the coach’s responsibility to create an environment where kids feel safe to come and talk to you, and where they don’t fear the repercussions of what’s going to happen if they do.
Coaches, Make a Safe Environment
Athletes may want to tell you they don’t understand something. They may want to tell you they’re afraid of something. Even if they are telling you they disagree with something you’re doing, they need a safe space to go. I put a lot of the responsibility on the coaches because I feel that the environment they create is what kids feed off of.
That being said, there are things that parents and athletes can do to help facilitate the situation. For parents, I have a couple of tips for you. Do you have a child who is normally outgoing, meaning not afraid to talk to other adults, but they seem so different when it comes to approaching their coach? I would encourage you to probe a little bit and find out what’s going on. It might be something that you can help them work through.
Parents, Find the Root of the Problem
There might be something that happened. They may have even seen a teammate talk to their coach and your child feels like they got yelled at. It might be something that happened away from them where they couldn’t hear what was going on. You as a parent can help them understand that perhaps that isn’t what happened. If it is, maybe we just don’t know the circumstances or what was said.
Before they get scared that that’s going to happen to them, encourage them to let go of what they don’t know. If you have a child who is outgoing except at practice (in terms of talking to their coaches), I would try and find out why and what it is that scares them.
Prepare Your Athlete
On the other hand, if you have a timid child and they’re scared to talk to their coaches, parents can do a lot to help their child feel comfortable talking to their coaches. Assuming the environment is inviting for that, there are a few things you can do:
Before anything major happens or there’s an issue, I would suggest parents encourage their child to talk to the coach for something simple. Maybe you give your child a note give to the coach. That note might be something real and it might be something that you put in a note.
Write it Out for Your Athlete
“I want you to know I’m trying to help my child be more comfortable talking to his/her coaches. This is to help that process along.” This will give your child a place to start. They have to go by themselves up to the coach and hand them a piece of paper. It’s less pressure because it’s not about their sport.
The coach might smile, laugh, say thank you, or do something that makes them feel more comfortable. The next time it might be less scary to walk up to their coach and hand them a note from mom or dad, or pass along a message from mom or dad verbally that you tell them.
I would do that multiple times until your child doesn’t hesitate when you ask them to deliver a note to their coach. After a few times, see if the coach says anything about your child opening up.
Support Your Athlete
Sometimes when something important happens, they might need some support going to talk to their coach. Maybe your child is scared of a skill. Maybe they’re scared of not making the team or the lineup or whatever it happens to be. So mom or dad, you might need to go with them to give them moral support. Your job is to make them feel like somebody is on their side, regardless of what happens with the coach.
Coaches, Your Response Matters
Coaches, how you respond will have a huge impact on what happens the next time a child comes back to tell you something. Kids are so nervous and so intimidated to talk to their coaches that they suffer in silence. That is not what we want. We want kids to feel comfortable with us. It might mean mom or dad going with your child, maybe once, or maybe a couple of times when they have to talk to their coach.
Go with a Friend
Another thing that can be done is, depending on the age of the child, they may have a teammate that they feel comfortable with and trust. Again, it might just be for moral support, but it’s helping them overcome their fears. The next time it will be easier.
Like I said, coaches, how you respond will have a huge impact on what happens next.
Set a Time and Day to Chat with the Coach
When it comes to talking to their coach, you might have to set up a specific time to do it. It might be on a day where they don’t normally have practice, or it might be before or after practice. I will say this though, the child is probably going to be super nervous.
You might not want to make it after practice because that will probably be their focus during practice. That might really disrupt their practice which will make it even harder to talk to their coach.
Chat When No One has Arrived Yet
Maybe try to schedule a meeting with the coach before practice and before the team comes in. By doing this, there’s some time where they don’t feel like people are watching. It might be something that happens on an off day where you can take them in and they can leave.
Another thing that has worked really well with some of my athletes is to have them write a letter to their coach. I had one athlete who gave it to their coach at the end of practice when they left, then they didn’t have practice for a couple of days.
Because it was a weekend or break, she had a couple of days off. She said that really helped her. She figured if her coaches response was bad, then at least they had a couple of days to not be quite as mad. By the time they responded to her, it wasn’t going to be the brunt that it might have been if she had done it the night before she had practice.
Write it Down So you Don’t Forget
Sometimes it’s much easier for athletes to write out their thoughts than to actually verbalize them. By writing it out, it gives you a chance to get out everything you want to say. When you’re nervous and you go talk to your coach, you might end up getting one of the points across that you wanted to say but maybe didn’t get everything out.
Sometimes writing it down and writing in a letter is better. You get it all out and have a follow-up conversation afterwards. Then you feel like you got what you wanted to say out, and sometimes it’s just easier. If you don’t have to face the coach face-to-face while you’re talking to them, sometimes that can be much easier.
Reward Your Athlete
Another thing for parents is to reward your child. Anytime they do take a step forward and say something to the coach, regardless of how it goes, positive reinforcement and having some kind of reward is helpful. It doesn’t have to be anything major, just something to let them know they did a good job and it will reinforce that behavior. Then afterwards, it’s really important for the parent to ask the child how it went. You want to validate anything that they feel and you might be surprised. They might find that it wasn’t nearly as scary as they feared that it was going to be.
Usually that’s the case, but certainly if something happened, they got yelled at or the coach said something that was kind of negative, made them feel bad, they’re going to need somebody to help them process that and know what the next step is going to be. It’s very important for you to ask them how it went and see how they feel afterwards. It’s also important to understand that maybe sometimes they won’t want to talk about it.
Maybe They’re Not Ready
Maybe they’re not ready to talk about it, maybe they don’t want to ever talk about it, maybe mom or dad just isn’t the person they want to talk to about it, so that’s another thing to keep in mind. However, I think if you ask them, you’ve given them this space to tell you whatever they want to tell you from that, and I think that part is really important and it will make them feel better even if they choose not to say anything.
Another option for some kids, if they’re not ready to talk about it or maybe they haven’t even processed it all themselves, is to encourage them to maybe write about it in their journal.
Even if they tell you, that’s also another good thing for kids to get used to doing is to start writing some stuff in a journal. It’s another avenue for them to process and to get things out. It’s also something that they then have in writing that they could go back and look at later. For example, the next time they have to go talk to their coach and they’re nervous, you could refer to the journaling. You could say, “Don’t you remember last time? You were so scared but it actually wasn’t so bad and remember your coaches were very positive. Why don’t you go back and read about it in your journal because you wrote about it?” It can serve multiple purposes.
Those are the tips I have for trying to get your child to overcome the fear of talking to their coaches from the parents perspective. Coaches, I really feel like it is your responsibility to help create an environment where your athletes feel safe and not intimidated and not worried about any repercussions or punishment that’s going to happen if and when they come and talk to you.
If you have any questions, please feel free to send me a note or an email after this and I will be happy to try to answer.