Not Performing at Your A (or B) Game | Q&A with Coach Eric

Today’s Topic: Not Performing at Your A (or B) Game

Hello and welcome.  My name is Eric Stephenson.  I am a high-performance coach with Complete Performance Coaching.  We have a pretty good topic for today.  It’s not the happiest topic, it’s not the easiest one to talk about, but I think it could be one of the most important ones, especially personally for me, but back in my athletic career.

Not Always Performing Well

Today we’re going to talk about how, unfortunately, as athletes, we don’t always perform the way we want.  That’s okay.  That’s part of sports.  It doesn’t matter if you’re a beginner, a professional athlete, or anywhere in between.  At some point during a season or career, we don’t always have our best stuff and some performances are pretty ugly, but that’s okay.  If we learn to manage those and keep them from hurting us or keep us from losing our confidence, that’s our main objective here.

So what do we do when we don’t have our A game or maybe even our B game?  It’s hard.  We don’t know what to do.

What This Looks Like

For baseball players, if you’re a pitcher, you might be struggling to find the strike zone.  You’re out there and you’re competing and you’re not throwing strikes.  You’re walking guys and thinking, “Oh no.  What am I doing wrong?  I don’t know what I’m doing.”  You start looking at the crowd and at your parents.  You’re letting down your teammates.  It just gets really frustrating.  You can get really angry at yourself and you just have no way out.

For a golfer, you might be playing great, having fun, and then all of a sudden, you hit two balls out of bounds.  You may think, “I just ruined that round.  I don’t know what happened.  I’m terrible.”  Your performance just collapses out of nowhere you don’t know what to do.  You’re left in the place of, “Oh, I just gotta get out of here.  I just want to finish this day and run as fast as I can because this is not fun.”

Nowhere to Go

For gymnasts, if you’re not having the best routine, you’re not having the best meet, things start to speed up and you start looking for answers right away.  You don’t know what to do or where to go. Then most of the time, in most cases, the performance just continues to get worse.  When the day is done, you’re left feeling pretty upset, sulking about everything, especially how poorly you performed.

Here is an analogy to help you through this.  So for those of you who have ever been in a riptide, you probably already know where I’m going with this.  For those of you who haven’t, I’m going to explain what it is and how it relates to performing poorly.


The ocean is really strong.  It has crazy currents and is really powerful.  It can do a lot of good, it can do a lot of bad.  When I was in seventh grade, I was in Florida with the team playing, and we all went out into the ocean.  I walked out into the water, about up to my chest, and was just having fun.  All of a sudden, out of nowhere, I felt myself getting pulled back.  I was getting sucked back into the ocean and I had no idea what was going on.  I started reaching out – reaching for the hands of some friends that I was with.  I didn’t know what to do and I panicked.

I was thinking, “Oh my gosh, I’m going to die.  What do I do now?”  My first instinct was to swim straight back to the shore as far as hard as I could.  Fortunately enough, I was able to grab onto somebody, and I was fine.

Natural Response

All too often what our natural reaction would be as soon as something goes bad is to go right against it and fight it.  You’re in a riptide, you’re in trouble.  You’re getting pulled into the negative, you’re getting pulled back. What do you do now?  Just put your head down and swim.  Unfortunately, that just will tire you out and you won’t get any closer to shore.  Then, after you get too tired, it’s all over.

Recognize the Danger

What the experts say is first, recognize that you’re in a riptide.  Recognize that you’re in danger, then swim parallel to the shoreline.  Eventually, you’ll slowly be brought back to shore.

This is a perfect analogy for what happens when our performances aren’t going well.

Three Steps

I have three different steps for athletes when your A game is off.

Step 1: Recognize It

You need to be completely honest with yourself.  When you’re saying, “Oh no, I don’t have my, A game today.  I don’t know what to do.”  It’s okay.  It’s okay to understand and it’s okay to admit that you don’t have your best stuff because it happens to all of us.  You can even say it out loud to yourself.  Really tell yourself,  “I’m caught in a riptide.  I see I’m not having my best performance.”

Let yourself know that so then you know the next steps to take.

Breathe and Relax

Once you recognize it, then you need to breathe, relax, and be ready for the next step.  You’ve recognized that you don’t have your A game and you don’t have your B game.  Now, what do you do?

Step 2: One Small Step

When you’re not performing well, things are starting to trickle down negatively.  You’re starting to get into a negative cycle of not performing well, and then it gets worse, and then you’re getting more worried about it.  It continues to spiral down.  The next thing you need to do after you recognize that you’re not performing well is think, “Okay, what is one thing I can do to take a step in a positive direction?”

For a baseball pitcher, if you’re not growing, if you’re struggling, you’re walking guys, you’re trying to be too perfect – all you need to do to say, “Okay, I just need to throw a fastball for a strike, and that’s it.  If the guy hits it, so be it.  If he doesn’t, whatever.”  You just need to see one positive thing happen.

If you’re a golfer, at the next hole, the next tee shot, you get up to make sure that ball gets into the fairway.  Whether you have to use less club, whatever it may be, do something that you know is simple and something that you know will help you get in the right direction.  The power of momentum is huge.  If you just start seeing or doing something a little bit better, something a little bit more positive, that can hopefully spin into something much more productive.

Step 3: The Funnel of Focus

The third step is the funnel of focus.  This is something I got from a sports psychologist, Dr. Bret Mccabe, who works with the University of Alabama.  Imagine a big funnel.  It’s nice and wide up top, and then it of funnels down to the bottom.  Well, the bottom is when the performance happened.  When you’re performing poorly, at the top is where all the bad should happen.  You’re going to have a lot of bad thoughts, a lot of negative thinking, and overthinking.  “I stink, why don’t I have it today,”  etc.  A lot of bad things are going to spiral and that’s okay, but recognize that those thoughts aren’t really going to help you.

Just Go For It

As you go down the funnel, what’s in the middle part?  Strategy.  Think, “What is one physical thing that I can do that will help me in this next swing, this next pitch, this next routine,” whatever it may be, and focus on that thing.  Then, at the of the funnel, right before the performance, I want you to only think about having fun, fully committing, and letting go.  At this point, if you don’t have your A game or B game, I’m guessing you probably don’t have much to lose.  So why not just go for it?  There’s really nothing that can go much worse.  Hopefully something positive comes out of that and the positive can start to turn around and you can bring that game back up to a B game, and maybe you can get your A game back.

What happens a lot with athletes is when they’re not performing great, when they don’t have their A or B game and they’re really frustrated, they’re overthinking, it kind of looks upside down.  What needs to happen, just having fun and relaxing, is not on their mind.  The strategy part of what they should be doing, what they learned at practice is a little bit there, but then right before they perform, they’re thinking a hundred different thought.  “I don’t know what to do.  I have no answers.  I don’t know where to go.  I stink.  This is terrible.  I want to get out of here.”  Those are the last things to be thinking.  It needs to be the other way around.

Now, you can think those things, that’s fine.  You’re going to.  Remember to then funnel that down into, “Well, those thoughts aren’t going to help me.  What strategy will help me?  Let me just have fun and see what happens.  Who knows?  Something good might come out of this.”


To recap, the three steps are to recognize when you’re in a riptide, recognize when you don’t have your A game.  That’s fine!  Just be completely honest with yourself, that’s step one.  Number two is to take that small step in a positive direction.  Something easy that you can do that’ll give you a little bit of momentum going towards where you want to be.  Then, number three is to use the funnel of focus.  You’re going to have those negative thoughts because you’re not playing great, you’re not performing well, and that’s fine, but try and get rid of them and just relax.

Think about one specific strategy you have and then just go have fun and wing it.  Whatever happens, happens.  At this point, you know you don’t have your best, so work with whatever you do have.  I know I needed to use those a lot during my performance.

Tell Me Your Strategy

So if you’re an athlete, what I would like you guys to do, is if you have another formula yourself, let me know what sport you play and tell me something that you might do when you’re not performing great.  This might be something that you might do to turn around that negative energy, a negative performance, or to build something more positive and to come out a little better than before.

Thank you for tuning in.  If you have any questions, please email me directly at  I’ll get back to you as soon as I can and we can discuss whatever it is.  I look forward to hearing from you.  In the meantime, best of luck to everybody. Enjoy your holiday break.

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