Today’s Topic: Celebrating Your Athlete’s Accomplishments Without Adding Pressure
Hi everyone! Welcome to Q&A with coach Rebecca. I am Rebecca Smith, founder and director of Complete Performance Coaching and the PerformHappy community. I’m here today to answer a question from a gymnastics mom that I think you will get a lot out of.
When this mom sent this question this week, I couldn’t wait to get to it because I actually interviewed a whole bunch of athletes on this very question. So, my answers are going to be partially from me, but primarily from a bunch of high-level athletes who have already answered this question.
Our question today comes from Anne. She is a gymnastics mom, but some of the athletes I interviewed were swimmers and some were gymnasts, but it all basically falls together to answer this question.
Ann’s daughter is an eighth grade, level 10 Junior Olympic gymnast. She asks
Q: I struggle to help encourage and support my daughter, letting her know we’re so proud of her capabilities, while at the same time celebrating her accomplishments without her feeling my celebration brings more pressure on her. I want to offer ideas and feedback on performance, but they aren’t often well received. I think they’re received as unintended pressure.
Ann also noted that her daughter isn’t always understanding the feedback her coaches are providing. Her daughter doesn’t understand the feedback and you want to help, and then she doesn’t receive it well and it feels like pressure.
Here’s my take on that. First, I’m going to walk you through what the athlete is experiencing right before competition and in some cases right before practice, and what they want from you before, during, and after and what they don’t want.
Ask the Athletes
The way that I’ve compiled this information was by actually asking athletes to write down on a note card something that they want their parent to do and something they don’t want them to do. I have been collecting this stack and here are some of the answers.
Before an athlete competes, what they need to be doing is getting into their ideal mindset, the zone, their flow, or whatever you want to call it. For the most part, it’s calm, confidence. That’s what they need. They need to be in a place where they’re not thinking, they’re just present, calm, or maybe they’re a little bit energized. It’s different for everybody.
Some people need to be really calm, some people need to be really energized, either way, they are working on getting in their own ideal performance state, which it’s safe to assume is calm and confident and not overthinking.
In order to do this, they need to be practicing being present, they’re doing their pre-performance routine, they’re going through a preflight checklist. That’s where they’re at. If they start to tense up, then that’s going to affect their overall performance. If they think too much, that’s going to affect their performance.
How You Can Help
I’m going read off some quotes from athletes before a meet. Here’s what they want. They say:
- Make me breakfast
- Help me prepare my food before the meet
- Send me to meet with food
- Make sure I have dry towels
Food and towels. If you are a swim parent, you cannot go wrong with food and towels. If you’re a parent of any other athlete – food. Don’t forget the food and the equipment, of course. It really should be their responsibility to make sure that they have their grips, their goggles, their clubs, etc. If they forget their golf clubs, that’s really not your problem, but you can do certain things that help them become a little more comfortable.
“Day Of” Help
On the day of the meet, this is what they said they wanted:
- Show interest in my gymnastics
- Be Supportive and happy about taking me to practice
*I know this could be a tall order for parents. If you’re saying, “I’m always driving you to practice and I have to sit at meets,” that’s not something that helps them to feel more confident.
- Don’t get overly involved in my process of getting ready (over-involvement can be distracting)
- Don’t tell me how to approach a meet
- Don’t talk to me about school or other potentially stressful topics before a meet
- Don’t ask questions before an event
- Don’t ask me how I’m feeling
- Don’t tell me to, “Try your best on this one and really put all your effort into it”
I can just hear these young teenagers who are thinking, “I’m going to try my best. You don’t have to tell me to try my best.
Don’t Mention the Competition
Here’s a quote from Amanda Beard, an Olympic swimmer. She says, “I concentrate on preparing to swim my race and let the other swimmers think about them.” So you don’t go in saying, “Hey, how’s your friend doing? Oh look, she’s here. Oh look, your competition is here.” They’re going to think about themselves and what they need to do and how they can be present and then let all their competition think about them.
Withhold Goal Reminders
They also said, “Don’t pressure me about goals before I compete”. If you’re saying, “Go out and get that nine, hit four for four and we’ll get ice cream,” or anything like that is going to put more pressure on them and it’s going to take them out of the ability to be present and into the outcome and that’s in the future. That’s something that they can’t control, but they can influence by staying present.
The big thing not to do beforehand is don’t worry so much. That’s the request of all these athletes. Before the meet food, help them prepare, and then leave them alone. Don’t ask questions. Some kids I work with really like to just put on a show on Netflix and do their hair and listen to music and just have a nice time. No pressure, no talking about anything stressful, just being together.
Getting Ready Somewhere Else
If you as a parent know that you’re not good at that, then let them get ready with their friends. Let them get ready with their grandma. Let them get ready with somebody else who’s not going to stress them out because you know, sit in the car.
I know plenty of really great sport parents who sit in the car while their kid is performing because they know that they’re not good at not putting pressure on their kid. I’m not saying this as you, I’m just giving an example.
Athlete During Competition
During a competition, the athletes need to be staying present, staying focused, concentrating on exactly what’s in front of them. One skill at a time, one stroke at a time. They need to be immediately aware if their focus drifts so they can continually bring it back to the present. They need to be focused on feeling and not thinking. They need to be aware that negative thinking and doubt is normal. They accept, they let it go. If it comes, they would just redirect back to the moment it is.
It’s such a focus game being in competition, so anything that you’re doing that becomes a distraction is not useful and it is putting more pressure on them. It’s creating this need for them to work harder to get back to focus because you gave them a last-minute tip or you said it reminded them of their goals and what that does is actually it decreases their available bandwidth to be present.
Here is more of what they requested during:
- Be supportive and happy about being at the meet (not complaining about being at a or driving to a meet or having to stay in a hotel or any of that stuff)
- Make sure I have food
- When things get harder and the skills get more difficult, keep supporting me like you always do
So even if those time standards are going up, the levels are getting harder, the skills are getting scarier, just keep doing what works. Keep supporting them in the exact same way.
The one I love the most is in all caps – BE NORMAL. Don’t get weird just because it’s a competition. Be Normal. Just be you. Just love them, cheer, don’t complain about being there and that’s it.
After the meet, what athletes need to be doing is focusing in on patience, taking a look, reflecting on any mistakes they made and looking at them as opportunities for growth, learning, and improvement. That’s their task. That’s not for you, parents, to necessarily help with.
Here’s what, here’s the requests from the athletes for after the competition:
- Don’t compare me to other athletes. Period. Don’t tell me their scores. Don’t tell me their times. Don’t tell me how they’ve done.
- Don’t tell me how my sister did or my best friend or my worst enemy. Don’t talk about it.
They do not want to hear a comparison at all to anybody else.
- Withhold coaching feedback. Trust that my coaches are giving me the feedback I need.
- Do not try to give me advice about my gymnastics
- Do not give me feedback after I compete
- Don’t analyze a bad event afterward
- Don’t ask me why I fell
- Don’t tell me how well you think I did
- Don’t ask me how well I did
- Don’t ask what happened.
Compassion Can Translate to Pressure
I’ve seen so many parents at meets say, “What happened?” And they’re trying to be compassionate. “Oh no, why did you fall in that skill daughter?” You think you’re being helpful, but do not talk about their sport with them afterward unless they want to.
The only question that you can ask is, “Hey, how do you think it went?” And if they don’t want to talk about it, they don’t want to talk about it.
Coach’s Job vs. Parent’s Job
Here’s my two cents, and we’ll interweave it with some other athlete suggestions. Coaches have the job of pushing athletes out of their comfort zone. That’s their job. Coaches are supposed to push them. They’re supposed to keep moving them to the next level, pushing them their edge.
Parents, your job is to be the soft place to land at the end of a tough practice, at the end of a tough meet, at the end of a great practice or a great meet. You’re there to be this stable, calm, positive influence. You’re not there to help them improve their skill, except for when you pay the coaches. That’s how you improve their skill. You pay the coaches, you pay for the special equipment, and then you let that take care of itself.
- Tell me you’re proud of me and that you can see I put in the work.
- Just leave it at “good job”. No more questions.
- Give me space
- Let me cool off before approaching me, even if it’s to be supportive regardless of the outcome.
So even if you can’t wait to go up and high five them, they want a few minutes. Unless they come charging toward you, give them some time and give them some space so that they can just cool down from the whole emotional roller coaster that is competing.
- Be supportive no matter what the outcome of a competition
- Ask how it felt rather than if it was a good score or a good time
- See if I’m feeling good without focusing on the outcome
- Don’t tell me I did a good job if it isn’t genuine
- Don’t force me to talk about my meet if I don’t want to
- Sometimes I don’t have an explanation for a bad event. Can that be okay?
- Respect me when I’m not in the mood to talk about the event
This is the one suggestion to wrap it all up with a bow. This athlete says,
“The best thing you can do after a meet is just say ‘nice job’ and then take me out for lunch and not talk about it unless I want to.”
That’s the general advice here. Say “good job”, “I love you”, feed them, take them home, and don’t talk about it unless they want to talk about it.
Back to Ann’s question about if the kid doesn’t understand the coaching or the parent doesn’t understand the coaching and they want to get clarity.
Don’t Give Feedback
Generally, my suggestion is don’t give them feedback. Don’t give them feedback on their sport, just don’t do it. It’s not your job. Especially if you were an athlete, a competitive, high-level athlete even, they don’t want your feedback unless they specifically say, “Mom, did you see that last turn? What do you think about my arm position?”
They’re okay if they ask you that. You can respond with, “I noticed that and here’s what I’d recommend.”
Of course, if the parent is the coach, that’s a whole other, really exciting, fun issue that I get to help plenty of kids with, but the answer is just don’t do it. Don’t give them feedback, don’t coach them, and don’t give them what you think the coach meant.
Inspire them to ask their coach for clarification. If they don’t understand, suggest they go in a little early and ask their coach if they can explain it.
Even if you think you know what it means and you don’t like it, you don’t agree with it, just say, “Hey, why don’t we text the coach and see if they can chat real quick?” That way you get to be the soft place to land and they get to get the information that they want.
When In Doubt, Ask
The last thing I’ll recommend is that if you’re not sure what your kid wants from you, ask them, “What do you want from me after a meet? What do you want from me before? What would you like for me to not do?” You could even give them an index card if it’s easier for them to do. Ask one thing you should stop doing, one thing you can start doing, and when all else fails, just give them food and drive them around and pay for stuff. That’s really your job. That, and love them no matter what, especially when they’re having a hard time.
If any of these families are those saying, “Hey! Score a goal and you’ll get ice cream,” kind of families, then just cut that off right now. Ice cream after every good effort and away you go!
All right everybody, if you want to join us in the PerformHappy community, you can check it out at PerformHappy.com where we have a whole do it yourself, mental training community as well as live athlete trainings and a parent community where you get to ask questions and get feedback on them immediately. We’d love to have you and I’ll see you again soon. Thanks for joining me.