I recently reached out to our private Facebook group and asked, “What are your athletes up to?” Here are the questions that I got in response. The first one comes from a gymnastics mom. She says:
Q: “My daughter is terrified to go between the bars on a straddle giant. She had her first time yesterday, but she’s freezing up terrified. I reminded her, ‘You’ve gotten through this before, you’ll get through it again.’ What can her coaches and I do to support her?”
To give you a little background, this is an athlete who has made a lot of strides and gained a lot of confidence. She came to us with a lot of mental blocks, she was really afraid of going backwards, on the beam especially, and has been just making consistent progress all along.
Way to go, mom!
So first of all, A+. That’s awesome that mom is showing support already. A lot of the time, parents will come to me and go, “What should I say?” I tell them the best thing to say is, “What can I do to support you?” Because you might actually know the answer. A lot of the parents who have been hanging out with us long enough, they know how to get through fear – they know step by step by step how to get through the mental block or the anxiety. But knowing it does not necessarily mean that your athlete is going to listen to you, so the best thing you can possibly do is pull back on the reins and go, “What do you want me to do? What can I do to help you here?” Which is exactly what this mom did. She reminded her daughter that she does know how to do it.
Sometimes we forget as humans to apply what works in one area to a new area. I just was working with an athlete earlier today who is incredibly confident in school. She is academically very excellent and trusts herself to get the work done. She was explaining to me, “Well, I know it’s going to take an annoying amount of time, but I’m going to get it done and I’m going to do well. I’m going to get the results that I want.” I said, “Okay, what about gymnastics? How is that different?” She looked at me like, “Well it’s different,” but really, you can look at it and go, “It’s going to take an annoying amount of time, a lot of hard work, but I know I’m going to get the results I want because I believe in myself and I always do.”
She had a harder time believing that about herself. But you as a parent can compare and say, “Okay, this area of your life, you’re getting through it. Really look at what’s working for you. Now look at another area of your life, is it different or is it the same?” I love curious questions. I ask them as a coach, but I think as a parent, it’s such an amazing tool to just ask curious questions like, “What can I do? What seems to have worked so far? What was that like for you?” And you do this with no judgment. You’re just purely curious and you’re reminding her that she knows what works. Then, you ask her what seems to work for her, instead of going, “Well, obviously what works is this, this and this,” you go, “Huh, interesting. Okay. How are you feeling about that? What were the thoughts going through your mind? Gosh, that must have been unnerving,” and remember you’re mom, remember that her brain is having a reaction and she knows this, but she can’t rationalize it while she’s in the moment and when the fear is up, rational thinking is pretty much gone. It has left the building.
Don’t Try to Rationalize
You can’t rationalize with somebody in the moment. You can’t rationalize with somebody even in the car on the way home. Instead, when she’s talking about, “Oh my gosh, am I ever going to get through these fears? Why do I have fears on every event?” It can turn into this big, hopeless feeling, end of the world thing, but you can help her to see, “Well this has worked before, and you’re working so hard.”
Three Critical Tactics for Mental Blocks
Additionally, there are three things that I talk about when I do trainings around fear – three critical things you must have in order to get through a mental block.
There has to be this feeling that it might take time, but you’re going to get through this, it’s going to work out, you’re going to reach my goal.
This goes hand-in-hand with optimism. It’s knowing that it’s going to work out. Maybe not today, maybe not tomorrow, but it will if you keep going.
I have a feeling for this particular athlete (and probably from the majority of the athletes that I helped through fear) speaking up is the issue. Knowing her process, remembering that that’s her process, and then being able to communicate that to her coaches.
Optimism, patience, then speaking up -is kind of the one, two, three punch.
The next question is from a swim parent. She asked:
Q: Do you have any suggestions for good self-talk or other techniques for swimmers to get themselves through the longer races, like 200 fly, 400 IM, and distance freestyle? It’s a lot of difficult time in silence with a black line to get in your own head.
Oh, isn’t that the truth? This made me think of a girl who I used to work with who was a distance swimmer, who would actually work herself up to the point of actual anxiety attacks near the end of a long race because of this exact thing.
She was very smart and she was an overthinker. When we worked together, we figured out her best long races and what she was thinking about, what was on her mind. This is always the best thing is to do – go back into past performances and ask, “What were you thinking about?” Half the time they’ll say, “I was thinking about nothing,” and then it feels like, “Oh, how am I going to duplicate that?” Because I know anytime I try to “not think”, it goes a little nutty.
Trying Not to Think … Doesn’t Work
I’ll give you an example. T here’s an exercise I love to do with swim teams. I have the swimmers lined up at the edge of the pool and I say, “Okay, everybody swim down and back without thinking anything. Get your mind to be totally silent as you swim down and back.” They come back and they all go, “Whoa!” Then I say, “Raise your hand if that was easy for you,” and for the most part, they’re all saying, “That was so hard! I couldn’t stop thinking. I was thinking about not thinking and then I was mad at myself because I couldn’t stop thinking.”
Let Your Mind Run Free
My response is, “Exactly. That’s perfect. That’s exactly what I expected to happen.” Now, for those of you little Buddhas in the water who can just shut the thing off, amazing for you, but for most people it’s not that easy. So then I have them do another lap where their mind can do whatever it wants. It’s free to have whatever wild thoughts it wants to have. They go, they swim down and back, and I go, “How did that go? They usually say, “I couldn’t think of anything. I didn’t know what to think about because I could think about anything, and then I didn’t know what to think about and so it was just kind of calm and peaceful.”
Most people, when they’re not trying to get their minds to do something specifically, can have a little bit more peace. The irony of the mind is baffling, right?
Next, I have them choose a single point of awareness. This, for those of you who are familiar with the concept of mindfulness, is a really great tool for slimmers or for any distance athletes – literally anybody who has to do something for a slightly long period of time that’s uncomfortable. Anyone who exercises, anyone who runs, this mindfulness is such an amazing tool.
What I do is have them choose something, anything. I say, “You can count your strokes, you can listen to the bubbles as they leave your nose, you can feel how your arm hits your goggles as it goes past. You can just say to yourself, ‘Pull, pull, pull, pull.’ Just pick something. It doesn’t matter what. You can just stare at the line. Maybe it’s a visual cue. Just pick something.”
So they each pick something and then they do their next lap. When they’re done, I have them compare the experiences of trying to restrain their mind, letting it go completely, and then focusing it on just one thing. That is something that takes some time actually.
Bringing Your Mind Back
The line on the bottom of the pool is a really great example for really any sport. You’ve got this line, and while all you want to do is just be in line, be in your own lane, you’re not obsessed with what anybody’s doing next to you. You’re just in your own lane. Then your mind will wander to your time, your cut, the person next to you, your strategy, and then you kind of bring it back as soon as you catch it.
If you’re counting, you’re counting, you’re counting, and then you’re like, “I’m tired, my arms hurt,” and then you’re counting again. “I’m counting, I’m counting. Oh no, the guy next to me is doing better than me… and I’m counting.” The quicker you can get your thoughts to return to whatever it is that works best for you, the more your brain is going to actually be able to get in line for longer and longer periods of time.
I love mindful warm-ups. This goes for pretty much any sport. I love for gymnasts to do mindful warm-ups, but it’s really easy for swimmers, too. Maybe you just decide, “In the first five minutes where we’re running laps or we are swimming a certain set, I’m going to try to just focus on one thing.” So if you’re jogging, you’re maybe going, “One, two, three, four. One, two, three, four,” or you’re just listening to the rhythm or you are looking at the blue floor that you’re running on. Whatever you pick, just pick one thing. It doesn’t matter what.
Breath is a really easy one because you can always breathe. You always have breath happening. If you tune in to the rhythm of your breathing for one minute, two minutes, five minutes, maybe if you’re advanced, 10 minutes of your warm-up, you’re going to be training your mind to chill out and come back.
Something I want to recommend (because this swim mom is a member of the community), you have trainings in your dashboard under the exercises section called neutralizing negativity. A lot of the time, negative thoughts are what’s getting in the way. There are two different training sessions there that teach you how to get your negativity to turn to neutral and that can help you find your one thing. Go check out the exercises section in your dashboard.
We have courses, challenges, and exercises. One of the exercises says neutralizing negativity. That’s really useful for self-talk.
Now we’re going to move to the third question here. This sport parent says:
Q: My athlete has a coach she really, really does not get along with. I’ve done my part with reaching out to the powers above that she needs help on what to say to herself, not to allow this coach to get her down.
I hear this so often, especially in individual sports like gymnastics and in skating. I hear about these coaches who don’t see the whole, complete athlete. They just see the outcome or they are coaching the way that they were coached. They’re doing the best they can with what they have and what they have is not necessarily the best when dealing with children’s skills and it makes me sad.
I hope that the culture of youth sport is shifting and I really want to be a part of that shift. With that being said, here are a couple of suggestions.
The first one is to put up a filter. This suggestion I got from someone I look up to in the sports psychology field. Just put up a filter that only lets in hope and critical comments that help you to be better. What it doesn’t let in is anything that makes it feel impossible. For example, if your coach is saying, “Get up on that high beam right now or leave my gym.” Let’s see… is there anything constructive in that moment?
Find What You Can Control
In that moment, it’s time to communicate, and the coach is not being supportive. She can basically look at what she can and cannot control. She can’t control what the coach is gonna say, how the coach is going to react, whether or not the coach will help with any of that stuff – completely out of your control. But what she can control is knowing her own process.
Like I said in the first question, if she knows her process and she knows, “This is how I get through fear step-by-step, methodically, this is my process. My coach doesn’t understand,” she can start to actually have compassion for her coach. I know that’s kind of crazy to think about for these 11-year-old girls to have compassion for a full-grown adult who is being awful, but to think, “Okay, my coach does not understand, here’s what I need if I am kicked out, because that’s what my coach thinks is what needs to happen. I’m going to filter out the negativity. There’s nothing about what she said that’s useful. So instead, what I’m going to do is practice my imagery. I’m going to practice my mental skills. If I have to climb the rope, I’m going to do it gratefully.”
Be the Mountain
Those tools that we’re learning in the community, those are helpful when it’s really “go time” when somebody’s being awful. We talk about being the mountain and the mountain doesn’t whine about the weather. The mountain is just the mountain. Even if it’s raining you’re like, “Okay, it’s raining. I’m okay. It’s all good. I got kicked out, I’m okay. I’m working through fear and I believe in myself and I know that I’ll get through this.”
I know this is a deep topic that is hard to fully grasp in five minutes, but there was a live training that we did on July 3rd that goes into this. Just go into the training library to find it.
For anybody who’s a monthly member, we have, we do live trainings at least once a week, if not two or three times and we record everything and keep it in the archives. There’s one from July 3rd under the athlete trainings that was all about how to rebuild confidence when coaches are not supportive, and also things that you can do to prevent mental blocks and increase confidence. So check that out in the training library under athlete trainings, hot seats July 3rd. I went into detail on that.
Find What IS Helpful
Meanwhile, if the coach is being awful but not that awful, I hate the spectrum of awfulness, what she can do is listen for the helpful things. For example, if the coach were to say, “Oh my gosh, if you don’t get your head in on that skill, you are never ever going to get it and you’re going to hurt yourself.”
I hear things like this all the time. What she would want to filter out is everything but “get your head in”. She goes, “Okay, get my head in,” and then she would focus on that. She’s not focused on hurting herself. It’s not that she’s never going to get this. She’s just going to bounce that negativity right off.
Creating a Filter
I like to have them create their own filter. Maybe it’s rose gold, maybe it’s sparkly, maybe it’s a cloud, maybe it’s a hula hoop. Whatever it needs to be that can get that negativity off and make it a game. Be like, “I hope that my coach is so awful today so I get to practice my filter and get to bring out my rainbow shield.” Whatever it is that you want to bring along with you that goes, “You can’t get in here, but bring it on and try me,” because that’s going to help that athlete not just get through practice but get through the difficult bosses, the crazy mother-in-law, difficult people in the future.
Using Your Filter Outside of Sport
Of course my mother-in-law is amazing, but you know what I mean. You’re going to have people in your life that are, that are having their own painful experience and maybe taking it out on you, and wouldn’t it be amazing to carry that rainbow shield around with you into the world and not be so affected and be able to be the mountain and not be affected by the weather?
I will post the link to everything that I’ve mentioned in the parent’s Facebook group. If have any questions, feel free to reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. For those of you who are already members, you can find me in our private Facebook group or in the forums, and I’ll see you again soon. Thanks for joining me