Handling a Setback in Sport

Handling a Setback in Sport

Today I’m going to be answering a PerformHappy member’s question about her athlete’s setback.  She’s a gymnastics mom and her daughter is working-level six, level seven.  She reached out to me basically saying,

“Help!  My daughter was making really good progress through her mental blocks and then she had a setback.  How do we not make it a big deal?”

Her daughter went into gymnastics practice and had a setback when she fell on a tumbling pass that had been a source of fear in the past, but she had been doing really well.  She fell, and then also she had a bad day on bars.  This was a big setback.  It was just one of those days where, as a parent, you think, “Oh no, no, no.  We were doing so well,” and your heart starts to beat because you’re so triggered.

Reaching Out

A+, mom, for immediately reaching out for help.  This is exactly what we teach – a setback can happen in a second.  If you don’t nip it in the bud, you go down, down, down, and then you find yourself wondering the last time she actually did the skill.

Look For Clues

The first thing we do is look for clues.  If you have a bad day, whether you’re the athlete or the parent, you find clues.  Really this is the athlete’s job to do this.  Mom’s thinking the coaches have been planting doubt in her.  She’s been overcoming injury and then the coaches are blaming her fear instead of the injury.  She’s already trying to get the coach’s approval.  The coaches are doubting her, there’s pressure to get to level seven after the injury setback and the fear setback, so mom’s starts inventorying.  There there’s a lot going on, so it makes sense that she would stop on this one tumbling pass.

Shift in Confidence

From that point, whether you’re the athlete or the parent, you can see why confidence would dip.  A lot of PerformHappy moms know confidence dips and rises, dips and rises.  It’s not like the curtain falls, it’s done, you’ve lost all hope, and the block is back.  It’s more like confidence just ebbs and flows.  So what mom did, which I think was excellent, was she reminded her that everyone has bad days.  She suggested backing it up a few steps to rebuild confidence.  That’s exactly the right thing to do.

Your Job as a Parent

Another thing that I will add is that your whole job as a sport parent, and this can be very hard for some of us very involved people, is that mom is the soft place to land.  Mom is not the person who’s like, “Okay, go get that next progression.  Did you make it?  How about this?  Let’s set a goal together.”  That’s not mom’s job.  That is my job. that is a job for other coaches in the PerformHappy community – that’s what we do.  We hold each other accountable.  Mom’s job is to be neutral and to remind through action, feeling, and energy that no matter what happens there is unconditional love, unconditional pride, and unconditional willingness to support.

You are the hug and the snuggle and the cozy blanket and the buddy you’re working your butt off.  Praise effort and progress.  Be the soft place to land with no agenda.  You don’t need her to be any certain level to love her.  You don’t need her to have any certain skills.  You don’t need her to even be happy or nice to love her – you just love her.  That is your job. Being that safe place to land can allow her to have a little extra capacity for discomfort in practice.

Avoid Adding Pressure

If there’s any feeling like “I have to impress my mom” or “Oh gosh, my mom’s going to be so disappointed in me” then that’s adding another layer of discomfort that they’re not going to be able to tackle in practice.  That’s the best thing you can do to help keep her confidence up.  Remind her that the outcome is not what matters because that outcome focus is what we are slowly dismantling in the PerformHappy community.  We are slowly taking the focus off the outcome through repetition and through specific guidance.

If you make her feel like you’ll only be happy when she gets her skills or she can only be happy when she gets her skills, whether you’re doing that on purpose or not, then you’re creating a downward plummet.  It’s very smart to nip that in the bud right away.

Use Your Bad Days

Now here’s, here’s what to do.  Find your clues learn from a bad day.  Bad days are my favorite.  When I’m working with athletes, I say bad days are the ones where we find out the very most.  We figure out exactly what not to do.  We figure out what doesn’t work.  We figure out what’s the focus that you do not need to have.  Those bad days are ripe with wisdom.  We take that wisdom to help make that backslide shorter and shorter and shorter because we have more and more information every time it happens.  Then it’s less and less stressful and less of a big deal every time. So figure out what sets you up for a good day, what sets you up for a bad day, and focus on setting yourself up for success.

Do What Works

Then, once you figure out those clues and, figure out what builds your confidence.  Look back at the months that the confidence has been building and keep doing that.

Do exactly what’s been working.

One thing I love to do with coaches who distract from confidence. They put these things in your head like, “Oh, you’re going to break your neck if you do it like that,” no, coaches!  Don’t say that!  We’re unwiring those things in your athletes’ brains.  Just don’t say it and then it saves us the trouble and it saves the kid the trouble.  So coaches, if your listening, just watch your words.  They’re very powerful athletes.  And athletes, those words do not have to stop you.

PerformHappy Mindset Challenge

Now, I want to suggest to this family in particular – go into the mindset challenge.  This one is one of the first challenges in the PerformHappy challenges.  Go to day five.  There’s an exercise called “The Good Coach”.  What this does is it creates this dichotomy between the good coach and the bad coach or the helpful coach and the not so helpful coach.  You get to design that coach and you get to use that coach’s language in your head whenever you’re hearing the bad coach or whenever you’re hearing the not so helpful coach talking.

Don’t Worry What Others Think

I strongly encourage you to check out the mindset challenge day five.  You get to use your coach’s negativity as your reminder to not go there.  You already know what the coach is going to say because it’s what they say.  Then you decide not to take it personally and remember what the good coach says.  That’s one suggestion – let that big distraction be your biggest refocusing reminder.  Fill your own confidence piggybank because they’re not doing it right now.  That way you are no longer affected by somebody else’s sarcasm, mood, or lack of belief in you because…

Here’s the thing – they don’t have to believe in you.  You just have to believe in yourself, even if nobody around you does.

And that is when you will be the most amazing – when you can completely not be affected by other people’s opinions of you.  And that goes way beyond sport.

Those of you who have done the challenges know that self-trust – which is we’re really aiming for – requires a lack of expectations.  So if you are expecting to be at a certain point by a certain time or a certain level or a certain anything, if you have any expectations, it’s going to create the tension that makes your skills a little funky.  So go in curious, not assuming anything.  You’re just showing up.

Then, you front-load confidence.  That means you add the mats, you add the spots, you start on something easy because that’s going to get the feeling in your head and it’s also going to get you moving into success.  Go to an easier tumbling pass and notice how it feels really good, that feels easy.  Do it a few times, then inch into the harder thing.  Then end that workout on the original skill.

Take it slow.  Don’t rush.  Let go of the expectations.  Just remember – taking a step back is not getting off the path towards success, it’s the path towards success.

“Don’t make it a thing”

You have to be able to have that humility to step back and rebuild and “don’t make it a thing”.  That’s one of our little catchphrases, “don’t make it a thing”.  It doesn’t have to be a big thing.  Front-load confidence, communicate with your coach, and remember it literally does not have to be a big deal at all.  If it is a huge deal when you’re 12, then it’s a smaller deal when you’re 13, and it’s an even smaller deal when you’re 14.  Every year you stick with it and you deal with those mental blocks and you bust through, it’s just a smaller and smaller deal.

Join the Waitlist

For those of you who are not currently members, we are not opening our doors, but we will be soon, so get on the waiting list at performhappy.com if it’s something you’ve been considering.  I will see you around soon.  Thanks for watching.  Thanks for listening.


Handling a setback in sport

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