Today’s Topic: Tips for Anxious Perfectionist Sports Moms
Hi everyone. I’m coach Rebecca Smith with complete performance coaching, and I am the owner/director of Complete Performance Coaching. We have a team of five performance coaches who specialize in helping athletes age eight to 18, maximize performance and enjoyment through online mental training, the PerformHappy Community, and through one-on-one Skype and Facetime sessions.
Our question today is from a perfectionist sports mom. She says,
Q: I think my biggest problem as a sport parent is that I’m nervous for my daughter, and I’m sure that that feeling passes to her, as much as I try to suppress it. Also, I’m an overachiever myself, and she recently said to me that she’s afraid she won’t be as successful at life as I am. Maybe I’m making her feel she needs to be the best or perfect and I’m not aware of it.
This hits me right in the heart. Today I was at gymnastics class with my three and a half year old and having this experience. I mean, come on, it’s a three-and-a-half-year-old at gymnastics, but here’s the background.
Coach Hat vs. Mom Hat
I am the mental coach for this gym, and I work with their optional kids, their compulsories, and their excel. As a coach, I have this ego that I’m aware of where I’ll think, “Okay, I want my kid to be awesome and if nothing else, I want my kid to be kind and brave and a really good sport,” because that’s things that I teach people, right? How to be a good sport, how to enjoy your sport, how to be good at it.
Anyway, we go in and there’s a sub. Anyone who’s had a three-and-a-half-year-old in their life probably knows that that was not a recipe for success. Now, he’s wonderful. He’s the boy’s team coach and I know him. So I said, “Hey, how’s it going? I’m so glad you’re here,” and my kid has a meltdown. She will not do anything, will not try anything. We’ve been doing gymnastics since she was one. Basically the second she could walk, I literally took her to gymnastics. But today, it’s as if she’s never done anything. She is crashing and burning the whole time. She won’t try anything and she’s crying.
Knowing How to Respond
Okay, what do I do? Do I roll with it? Do I tell her to toughen up? Should I say to her, “Pull it together. We made a commitment”. I tried to find somewhere in the middle and I did what I usually do when I’m stressed – I started breathing. I breathed, I waited, and I gave her some options.
Ultimately, it just wasn’t the day. She did not make it through the whole class, but it definitely wasn’t a scene. I just said, “Hey, do you want to participate or should we go home?” And she said, “I want to go home.”
So we went home. Now, this has happened multiple times. It’s her personality. Then she has me there. I was a gymnast, and she knows that, and I’m sure she’s feeling the pressure. Maybe she’s not at this age, but I know she knows I love gymnastics. It’s all watch on YouTube and it’s all I ever talk about. Plus, I’m always going to work with the gymnasts. So there’s this pressure on her and it might come out in these moments where something is different and something makes her anxious.
Unfortunately, then I get frustrated because I’m anxious because I don’t want to look bad and I want her to do well and I want her to be happy. It’s a lot to bear as a parent.
Tips for Responding to Your Athlete
With that said, here are my tips on what to do if you are a perfectionist with anxious tendencies as a parent, which is probably many of us who have chosen the sport of gymnastics, figure skating, or one of the aesthetic sports, and our kids are similar to us in a lot of ways too probably.
Acknowledge the Warning Signs
There are some warning signs that you are anxious and it’s not helpful. Maybe you’re feeling overwhelmed or frustrated, you’re shouting, you’re rushing, you’re tense. I know whenever I feel like my daughter is driving me crazy, that usually means that I am feeling anxious or that something’s going on where my ego feels threatened. I’m in some kind of fear. It might be that my kid’s not okay, I’m not doing a good job, I’m going to be late, I’m going to look bad, etc. It’s a lot of things that really, when I look at it, I realize, “Ew, why would I be yelling at my kid because I don’t want to look bad to the preschool teacher?” Who cares? We’re doing our best, and if we’re not, then we can do better tomorrow. We can wake up earlier and we can get out the door.
When you’re in that place, it’s not their fault. Yes, they’re probably being a pain in the butt, but just for the purpose of this session, let’s look at ourselves, moms.
Don’t Feel Guilty
The first thing I want to say is don’t feel guilty. This is not easy to stop. If we could just say, “Hey, don’t be nervous,” then I probably wouldn’t have a job. If you’re dealing with your own nerves, don’t feel like you’re being a bad mom. Don’t feel like you’re doing something wrong. Once you know, you can accept it, and here’s what you can do about it.
If you are able to learn some coping skills, once you have them, you can model them for your kid.
For me, taking a deep breath is number one. I am so glad that I’ve been doing this long enough to now have it be my kneejerk reaction. Whenever anything stressful happens, I automatically breathe without realizing it. Sometimes it’s that reaction that makes me realize, “Oh, I think I’m stressed.” I’m driving next to a cliff or I’m at the dentist or something’s going on. So one is just to model a nice, slow, deep breath.
2. Rational Thinking
Then the next one is to think rationally. What’s really important here? If I’m driving on a cliff, I say to myself, “All right, this is dangerous. I’m going to make sure I have my hands at 10 and two, keep my eyes on the line, and take it slow.”
That’s rational. Thinking about tumbling down the cliff, not rational. If your kid is going in to compete at their state competition and they are just a ball of nerves, what’s the truth? What are the facts – they’ve put in the work, they’ve done the best they can, and now it’s just time to go out and give it a shot.
What are the facts for you mom? She’s done everything she can, she’s put in the work. Yes, you’ve paid a lot of money. Yes, you’ve gotten on a lot of airplanes, and yes, you’ve given up a lot to have your child in this sport, but ultimately you love her no matter what. Even if she completely bombs, you love her. Those are the facts and that’s rational.
Even when my kid is driving me nuts, I love her. I just want her to be happy and I just want her to feel successful. Sometimes I need to let go of that and realize that it’s not going to be the way that I think it’s going to look.
3. Talk About It
Something that I’ve done, I actually did this with my daughter this morning, is to talk about it when I fall short. That’s my biggest tip. When you are anxious and you feel like you rubbed off on her, just say, “You know what, I feel like I was really stressed out before that meet and it’s not even my meet. I just want to let you know I’m so sorry about that.”
You can also talk about times when you’re anxious and how you deal with it. Maybe you have a lot going on at work and the stress carries with you into their practice and that wasn’t the right move. That’s when you can say, “Sorry if you felt that. It’s not what I meant.”
Talk about how you felt and how you cope with it – that you talk about it, you go to therapy… Parents! Go to therapy! It’s such a good solution, especially when you’re dealing with these high-stress environments. Have somebody you can kind of off-gas with and learn some coping skills. I have this in my life, and I recommend it.
5. Be Transparent
Also, allow your feelings to show. Instead of going, “Try to be perfect, try not to be anxious, try to act like everything’s fine. Everybody hurry. Oh my gosh, we’re running late!” You’re speeding up. You’re going a mile a minute. Instead, you can go, “Gosh, why am I so stressed out? Woo. Okay, let’s put on some music. Let’s do a little dance and focus on something other than what we’re about to do.”
Talk about it and allow the feelings to be there because otherwise you’re subconsciously or consciously implying the feelings are not okay, that it’s not okay to feel anxious because if you’re trying to suppress your nerves, that means it’s not okay to feel nervous and it is totally okay.
It’s normal that you would feel nervous on the way to the state competition. That’s normal, but then we want to get the coping skills going. Get the music on, do a little meditating, breathing, whatever works for your kid or for you. You have to try something.
Prepare In Advance
Of course, do this before you’re all the way to state. You don’t want to rush to get all the tools in place. Now is not really the time to start things, but learn some coping skills so that you can model them. Talk about the feelings and how they’re uncomfortable and how you cope with them. Then have your athlete brainstorm with you.
6. Legalize Failure
Something else that I recommend for those perfectionist moms, I consider myself a recovering perfectionist – legalize failure. This means failure is allowed. I would even say let your kid know, “Even if you fall a hundred times today, I love you. We’re still going out to ice cream because you busted your butt all season and that’s what matters. Effort and progress. You’ve gotten better and I’ve seen you working.”
So no matter how it goes, hugs and ice cream. Just let them know you will not be disappointed no matter what happens because you know that they’ve tried their best, even if you see them melting down or imploding because things are not going well. They’re going to get a good lesson out of this if you make that okay.
Don’t Let Things Escalate
If you make it so that if they’ve failed and you’re disappointed and you can’t believe that this happened, they will know it. Then, there’s a quiet car ride home, they’re upset and will feel like they are a failure, which is just going to be horribly stressful for everybody. Next thing you know, the next week they’re going to feel like it is not okay to fail. They’re going to get tenser, they’re going to make more mistake, and you’re going to get more mad and you’re going to want them to quit and they don’t want to quit.
So legalize failure. Failure is also allowed at practice because here’s the point of failure – you learn.
Learning From Failure
Here’s a challenge for you. For the mom who asked this question, and also the moms out there who can relate, when’s a time in your life that you failed? Think of a colossal failure. I have a good handful of them.
Once you have your failure in mind, think about the wisdom you gained from that. What did you learn about yourself as an athlete, as a human, as a person in relationship to others? What did you learn by failing?
I had multiple crashes and burns in my youth and all of them led me to exactly where I am today. I’m sure that you have a story just like that word where you tried something, it didn’t work in a really big way, and your life was ruined. Since then, you’ve picked yourself up and you rose from the ashes. Now you are this person who has this hindsight that makes you better.
Sharing Your Failures
If you share your big blunders and your big failures, you’re letting your kid know the best thing they can do is fail now so that they’ll get better and better at being wise and doing life and not being afraid to take risks and really go for it.
If there’s an appropriate moment, share a failure with your little perfectionist, and let them know that it’s part of you and that you’re not afraid to fail because it is part of the process of becoming an amazing human.
So legalize failure, talk about failure, talk about feelings, talk about your shortcomings, and also focus on effort and progress. That’s the main thing that you can do as a perfectionist mom or somebody who’s anxious, just focus on where they were and where they are and what they’re doing well and how far they’ve come. What you focus on is going to grow. It’s going to magnify.
If you’re thinking, “She’s lazy and she doesn’t try, why are we even doing this?” Then she’s going to start to shut down and that’s going to be the reality versus if you feel like she’s trying and you can see it. Even if she’s only trying for five out of that 40-minute private lesson, she’s trying for five minutes and that’s what you point out. If you do that, she’s going to start trying more and more and more and you’re going to start to relax and realize even if she has a year of failure, two years of failure, she will move through it if she has a safe space to explore that.
If she feels like you’re not available to talk about failures, then she’s just going to feel like she’s bad, and that’s the end of the story.
Remembering Your ‘Why’
I’ll wrap up with this. Something you might want to think about as you go into that competition as a ball of stress is why did you start, why did you put her in that sport? Why did I put my daughter into gymnastics? Because I love the sport. It’s fun for me and I thought it would be fun for her. Get exercise, push through some discomfort, become more resilient, learn something, get skills. That’s why. I didn’t put her in the sport to get a scholarship or to be a champion, and you probably didn’t either.
On that first day at tee ball or the first day of recreational gymnastics or the first day they learned to skate, you weren’t thinking, “Okay, our whole life savings is really riding on this kid, so don’t screw it up.” No, you just sent them out to see how it went. So see if you can go back to that place. A lot of the time when I work with kids, I’ll ask, “Why did you start? It’s not because all this stuff you’re wrapped up in. So can we go back to that? What do you love about it? What was fun about it when you just were there to see what happens instead of ‘If I don’t do this, then it will end of the world.'”
All right, everybody, you can always send me your questions to Rebecca@performhappy.com. If you’re interested in one-on-one sessions, you can grab a free 20-minute consultation by clicking here.
If you’re interested in the do it yourself route of mental training, we have an amazing community PerformHappy.com. We’d love to help you through your mental blocks, build your confidence, and get you going into next season strong. Bye for now. See you soon!