Hello parents, today I am talking right to you. If your athlete continues to struggle with mental blocks even if they go through programs and do the work, the problem might be a lack of trust in you. Now don’t click out of the page just yet, I can help you heal that relationship and help your athlete become stronger.
Why is your athlete struggling? Could it be a trust issue?
I have spent the last 25 years working in the competitive athletic world but I have spent the last seven years in private practice working on mental strength training specifically. We know that there are all kinds of advice and tips out there for sports parents on how to help your athlete with their mental blocks. Today I am going to give it to you straight, the theme myself and my other coaches are seeing is that kids who continue to have mental blocks have a lack of trust in either their parent or their coaches.
I know that is kind of crazy to hear but the proof is in the athletes and families we have helped. We start with these athletes who just cannot overcome their mental blocks. They work the program, they do what we are recommending and it just isn’t getting better. When that happens our coaches get together and try to figure out why. 100% of the time a lack of trust is what’s holding these kids back. It can be a lack of trust with a parent or a lack of trust with their coaches. Maybe the gym doesn’t feel safe or they have abusive coaching. But here is the thing, it doesn’t equate to abusive parenting. It is usually the exact opposite.
What am I doing to cause this distrust?
Usually, it’s the parents who care so much and want their child to succeed so badly. The parents that are late-night google searching for ways to help get their athlete out of a slump. Where the lack of trust comes from is how we are speaking to our kids and athletes.
Let me give you a couple of concrete examples of this. My coaches and I meet once a month and we talk about what we are seeing, what we are hearing, and the trends we are seeing.
Your athlete comes home after a bad day. Maybe they are in pain. It could be a mental struggle. Maybe they are in an emotional or social struggle. Whatever it is, something is just not working for them at the gym. Seeing them struggle is hard, so some parents answer something along the lines of “You don’t have to keep doing this”, or “if it is too hard or it hurts too much you can quit”.
Here’s a hint, they don’t want to quit.
But that isn’t what your athlete is looking for. They don’t want to quit and they don’t want permission to quit. They are just like you, sometimes they just need to vent. Sometimes they just want to lay it all out there ” my coach is so mean and everybody’s better than me. I hate it. Gymnastics is the worst”. And then they want you to sympathize “Oh honey, I am so sorry you had a bad day, here’s your dinner”.
These athletes are hard-wired to want to continue, they want to work hard, and they want to keep going. So when they start communicating like this to you something else is going on. If you start throwing around the “Q word” they start thinking you are giving up on them. ” Oh my mom doesn’t believe in me” or, “she thinks I am too broken”. That is what they really hear when you start talking about quitting their sport.
What happens to that trust when you say the wrong thing?
When they start to hear those types of things from you they subconsciously stop sharing as many of their feelings and struggles with you because of your seemingly negative reaction. The other hard part is not giving unsolicited advice. When they come home “complaining” it is so easy to tell them what we think they should do or how we think they can fix the problem they are having. That opens up a whole other can of worms you don’t want to have to clean up.
To keep them open and talking, here are a few things you can say instead. “I am sorry your coach was a grump today, I am sure they will be in a better mood tomorrow”, “if your ankle is still bothering you let’s get you in to see the doctor right away”, “I am sorry your teammates weren’t nice to you tonight”.
Unless they specifically ask for a solution or help, they usually just want to feel heard. My favorite thing to ask a struggling athlete is “how can I support you?”. That question is pure gold! And whether they need a hug or to be fed, do that. Trust them. They don’t need permission to quit, they need permission to not be okay for a little while and still want to do gymnastics.
Easier said than done for sure
Don’t get me wrong, I am saying all these things but I know firsthand how hard it is to actually follow through and respond this way. Most of us were raised by a “tough love” generation. My mom (whom I love and forgive) was no compassion. “You’re fine”, “it’s not going to kill you” and “stop whining”. Those tend to be our default answers because that is what we know. But we are trying to do better for our kiddos and that is so hard. And maybe sometimes they are whining, maybe that whining is them just looking for a little extra attention. What is so bad about them wanting some attention? What is so bad about GIVING them that attention? If that is what they need then let’s give them that.
Stress and big feelings
Our athletes go through a tremendous amount of stress for how old they are. They have to learn to deal with those big feelings. When they feel safe they share those big feelings. Your athlete might not always be able to put those feelings into words, instead, it comes out as a breakdown in the car on the way home from practice. But we have to remember that the release of emotions means that they feel safe with you.
These kids are just like you and me, if those feelings don’t get released then eventually they are going to explode. It is so easy to get overwhelmed by that and not know what to do with it all. When parents can shift the way they react to what their athlete shares with them it becomes this symbiotic relationship. They start to come to you with even more, and that helps those feelings be more manageable for both of you.
Money sure can complicate things
The other big mistake we see many parents make is bringing money into the conversation. Don’t get me wrong, I know how stressful that invoice from the gym can be, especially when your athlete isn’t having fun.
It can be so easy to let ” do you know how much we are paying for you to be miserable”, or “do you understand that I am working two jobs to give you all of these opportunities and you aren’t even enjoying it”. Unfortunately, those are worries for you, not your child. Putting that on a child just isn’t fair and it is an added level of stress and anxiety that will make things worse, not better.
Learn more at my free training
I have thrown a whole lot at you today, but I cannot give you all the answers in one podcast, blog, or Facebook live. Instead, I have created an entire FREE training just for sports parents. This isn’t for the athlete, this is specifically designed for you, the parent. It covers everything from your athlete struggling with fear or mental blocks, to how to help them through it without being too controlling or too involved. This is for you to learn some tips and tricks to help them through those struggles. You can sign up for the FREE training at completeperformancecoaching.com/free. I hope you get a lot out of it and I will talk to you all soon!