Today’s Topic: The Lies Your Athlete Tells
“I’m fine.” This is a common lie that teenagers tell. This is one that I know we’ve all heard, we’ve all said it, too. It’s a lie not unique to teenagers. I’m going to talk through this common lie, a case study of a situation that I witnessed happening in a triangle of coach, parent, and athlete. Everybody was sort of mad at each other, lying, and just not in communication. I’m also going to go over a couple of other common athlete lies that get told to their parents, how to respond to them, and how to best support them.
Mom’s Point of View
For this story, I’m going to give you the mom’s perspective first. Mom is dropping her daughter off at gymnastics practice. Every time she picks her up, she asks, “How did it go?” Her daughter responds, “Fine.” Okay, great. They go home and have dinner. The next day, she takes her to practice again, and afterwards, she asks, “How did it go?” Same response, they come home and have dinner and business as usual.
It’s the end summer and then it’s into the fall, everything’s fine, and then mom gets a text from the coach a month before her season starts.
The Truth Comes Out
“Just so, you know, I hate to do this, but if she doesn’t get her tumbling back soon, I’m going to have to scratch her from the first meet.”
And Mom goes, “What? What about the tumbling?” The coach goes, “Oh, I thought you knew. She hasn’t tumbled in months.” Meanwhile, the kid keeps getting out of the car and saying, “I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.” Now mom is saying, “What? There’s a month until the competition, we’ve already paid and you’re getting scratched! Why am I just finding this out?”
Now for the coach’s perspective. Rewind a few months and all of a sudden this kid stops going for stuff. She’s standing around more, not really getting her assignments done, and she’s not communicating. It just looks like she’s getting lazy. She’s standing around talking to her friends and she’s not trying anything anymore. The coach responds but getting angry, yelling, and tell her to get it together. He’s saying things like, “Go. It’s your turn. Get more done. Why are you standing around?” And then finally he realizes, “Oh, I think she’s scared. She’s not doing anything. She’s balking on skills that she used to be able to do. I wonder why.”
He goes there and he asks, “Hey, how’s it going?” And she says, “I’m okay. I’m fine now. I don’t need a spot.” So he tried the yelling and that didn’t work. That just shut her down. Now she doesn’t really want to talk to him because their relationship is strained since he’s been yelling at her to try to get her motivated. Then he goes online and he starts reading blog posts about fear decides he needs to help her to feel successful. They have to back it up and work on more drills, more progressions, give her more spots, and just be a little more supportive.
Offering support isn’t always supportive
At this point, he’s on the opposite end of the spectrum. “Okay, I’ll go ahead and spot you,” and she’s like, “I don’t need a spot,” or she just doesn’t come around the bar where he’s going to spot her. She just seems really resistant to any help and he’s trying to help her. Finally, the coach says, “Hey, you know what, you just let me know what you need and I’m going to be over here. You take your time, do your thing. He’s obviously getting frustrated, thinking, “She can do this. What’s the problem? I’m trying everything. I ‘m just going to let her do her thing.”
What’s Actually Going On
From the athlete’s perspective, she starts to get scared. She doesn’t really identify that it’s fear though, she just knows that one day her tumbling started to feel weird and then she’s trying it the next day and she’s balking, meaning her body’s freezing up when she’s trying to go for stuff. She’s starting to freeze up and she’s thinking, “What the heck? What is happening? I just did this. I just competed this. Oh my gosh, what’s wrong with me? This is not good.” Her friends are telling her, “Just go forward. It’s fine,” and the next day she comes in and she’s still not going for it. Now her coach is yelling at her and she’s like, “I’m trying. I’m not being lazy. Oh my gosh, I can’t, my body just won’t work. I don’t know why I can’t go for this. I was going for it the other day. This is not good. I just got to try harder.”
She comes in the next day and she’s thinking, “I’ve got to try harder. I have to get this figured out. I’ve got to fix this and I’ve got to fix it fast because season is coming,” and then coaches are going, “Seasons coming. Come on. It’s time to have those series ready. It’s time to have your tumbling passes solid. Hey, what’s going on? Why don’t you just downgrade and go to a different pass?”
“What? He doesn’t believe in me, so now he’s giving up on me. It’s only been a month. He doesn’t think I can do this. My coach hates me, doesn’t believe in me. I’m going to get in trouble if I don’t go for this. I definitely can’t tell my mom because the last thing I want is my mom getting on my back about this. I’ll figure this out. I just need to try harder.”
Finding a Solution
Fast forward to where finally mom knows and wants her to talk to a sports psychologist… but she’s thinking, “What’s a sports psychologist? I just need to do the skill. I just want to do it. I don’t want to talk to anybody. I don’t want a spot. I don’t want to do the easier thing. I just want to go do it and I want to go do it now.”
So that’s where the athlete is coming from. Coach sees it as laziness or as lack of motivation. They see it as avoidance. They see it as maybe they’re not as committed as they used to be, maybe they’re distracted. Parents see it as, “What? What do you mean? I don’t understand why this is happening,” or they see it the same way as the coach, which is, “I’ve seen you do this. Why don’t you just go do it? What’s the problem?”
Athletes Need Tools
Athletes without the right tools just get really frustrated because they’re thinking, “Something’s wrong with me. I just need to work harder. I just need to do this,” which begins the cycle, and the kid’s like, “I’m fine, I’m fine. I got this, I’m going to figure it out. It’s okay mom. I don’t want to do that. No, stop telling me. Stop trying to solve this problem for me. I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine, I’m fine.” Aka leave me alone. I just want to do it. Everybody stopped talking about it. I’m so embarrassed.
That’s a very common story that I hear from people. I’ll get on the phone to do a free consultation and the mom will say, “Well, she doesn’t really want to talk to you.” I say, “That’s fine. I’m used to it,” and I don’t take it personally. I talk through my experience, which was very similar where I got stuck. I couldn’t go backwards. I was embarrassed. I got yelled at, I got over spotted, and I never figured it out and I quit. I don’t want that for any of you out there. That’s not how it has to be.
“I need help!”
So parents or coaches, if you’re in that situation where your kid has been essentially lying to you, saying that they’re fine, the translation is I need help, but I don’t want to need help and I don’t know how to ask for it and I’m embarrassed. So again, I need help and I don’t want to need help.
In these situations, a lot of the time with the athlete needs is help. They need another mat, they need a spot, they need a drill. They need something to feel successful, which is something that this coach had figured out. This coach actually emailed me and said, “I’m trying to give her baby steps. I’m trying to be really supportive and she’s just completely closed to it.” It’s not that she was closed, it’s that she was scared and really didn’t want to make it a big deal and just wanted to be able to do it. Unfortunately, that’s not the solution.
Suggestions for Supporting Your Athlete
1. Encourage them by sharing a relatable situation. Talk to them about a time when you didn’t want to need help and you did, how you wanted to figure it out on your own and how your path was difficult as a result that you were determined and driven. You just wanted to do it and you knew you couldn’t, you knew you had it in you and you didn’t want help. Finally, when you surrender and asked for help, the solution became clear.
I imagine every adult in the audience knows a situation like that. I have been through countless crash and burns, stubborn moments where I thought, “I got this, I don’t need any help. I’m smart. I can figure this out,” when finally I just ask for help and realized I’m not alone and I’m not the only person who’s ever been through this, even though it feels like it in that situation. Then, other people can make suggestions that are going to help.
2. Defining your roles and actions. As soon as the parent, coach, and athlete got on the same page, we came up with a plan, and we got her moving. Coach knew what to do. He knew what his job was, which was to keep slightly pushing her out of her comfort zone. Mom’s job was to be the soft place to land at the end of the day and to share experiences of having been through situations like that and how you’re just so proud of her for dealing with it. Not trying to solve the problem, not trying to be the coach. That’s the thing I get a lot when people come to me. Mom just wants to be mom again, not the therapist, the coach, all of these other things. Mom just wants to be mom and just love on her little girl or her little boys.
3. Help them to see stories in which other people, or maybe you allowed somebody to help you and you identified a blind spot and you made it easier on yourself.
“I don’t care how I do” or “I don’t care about that”. Now, if you have a perfectionist in your family who’s telling you they don’t care, you know they actually do care. You know they’re a perfectionist and you know they want to do well. When they are saying they don’t care, then what that really means is, “I’m setting the bar low because I’m terrified of failure.”
4. Praise their effort. What they need from you in that situation is a reminder that you are praising their effort. For example, you could say, “You know, you’ve been working your butt off for this competition and I am so proud of you. I can’t wait to see you try your best out there, and that’s it. I don’t need you to win. I don’t need you to get any points. If you fall 27 times, we are going to ice cream because you showed up and you gave it your best.”
That specific line can be really useful. “Even if you fall 27 times, I love you, I love you, I love you, I love you, I’m proud of you. I can’t wait to watch you out there doing your best.” And that’s it. A lot of the time that fear of failure comes from fear of disappointing people, fear of wasting mom’s time and money.
A lot of the times when parents say, “Do you know how much we paid for this? You better go out there and do your skills,” that’s so much pressure. Please do not say that to your kid. If you make it about that in your family, then that’s when your kid is going to be able to unlock these better performances.
The next lie is, “I’m not nervous,” but when you look at them, you can tell they are. However, the last thing you want to do is say, “You look really nervous. Quick! Let’s do all this stuff. Let’s listen to this thing, and let’s try this thing.” No. Just be mom. Don’t be the coach. Continue your praise. “Everything you’ve done so far has made me the happiest mom in the world. Even if you’re not tumbling, I love you. I love you. I love you. Huggy ice cream. No matter what, let’s party after.”
The Last Lie
“I’m listening,” when really, all they’re thinking is, “Stop going on and on about what I should be doing to not be nervous, what I should be doing to get my skills back, what I should be doing to get my confidence up. Yes, mom, I know you were an athlete but you don’t get it,” and they’ll tell you. What they really mean is, “I don’t want you to preach to me anymore about this. You are stressing me out. Don’t talk to me about school. Don’t talk to me about gym. Don’t talk to me about competition. Don’t talk to me about anything. Just put on some music and let’s go. Let’s drive.”
5. Listen more than you speak. This can be a challenge for some parents. Most of the words coming out of your mouth, let them questions, not suggestions. If all else fails, just repeat back what they said to you. This is something I have in my Peak Performance Parenting course in PerformHappy. It’s this whole mini-course for parents on exactly how to communicate, how to help kids who are resistant who need help but they just won’t accept it. There’s a whole spectrum of where they’re at on that and how to approach each different version of kids along that spectrum.
If you have questions, feel free to reach out to me either in direct message on Facebook, or you can email me email@example.com. We are all navigating this crazy sport parenting adventure together. Thanks for hanging out with me today. I’ll see you soon.