I hear so many labels, phrases and terms thrown about by coaches and parents regarding their athletes. They say they are “losers”, “quitters”, “chokers” or runners who “can’t kick”, “aren’t tough”, “cop out on workouts” or are simply “head cases”.
I have heard these terms applied to athletes so many times. I’m sure you have too. Maybe you have used some of them – on others or even yourself. One of the most detrimental things any coach, parent or athlete can do is to label themselves. It sinks into our psyche and we start to believe the things that are said about us. It can become a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Contrary to some old-time coaching philosophies, telling athletes that they “aren’t” something or “can’t” do something does NOT motivate. In fact the predominant reaction is one of dejection, despair, and feelings of inadequacy and doubt. All the things we do not want if we are going to be competitive.
Some solutions for parents and coaches:
- Start by listening closely to the athlete. As Stephen Covey says – “seek first to understand”.
- Put more focus on what has been done versus what has not been done. Build up athletes by acknowledging what was accomplished – or even learned by a bad experience.
- View shortcomings as areas to develop. If you don’t progressively practice aspects of mental toughness training it won’t magically appear on race day.
- Never make comparisons of athletes. All athletes are different. No two athletes are created the same. The goal is to be the best one can be. In the process you may or may not perform better than someone else.
- Stop telling your athlete (or yourself) that you shouldn’t be upset at a loss or bad performance. It is normal to “feel”. I give my athletes 24 hours to “feel” and then get over it. After that – they are dwelling.
- Experiment with backing off of “being tough”, “psyching up”, “being intense” and just enjoy the racing. Letting go and lightening up can be the trick to running free… and fast.
In any event, the fact that someone is having performance problems does not mean it is a “head” thing. Some other considerations before jumping to the head:
- Have they been suffering from illness or injury lately?
- Have they been sleeping well?
- Is there stress outside of running (home, work, school, family)?
- Have they been traveling a lot?
- Is their nutrition appropriate?
- Are they hydrating well?
- Are they over-trained (physically)?
- Are they under-trained (physically)?
- Have they had time off or breaks/inconsistent in training?
- Are there team, coaching or environment issues?
- Have team dynamics changed?
These are all things which can contribute to someone not performing. And there may be patterns from these which contribute to something that the untrained eye may want to simply label – it’s a “head case”.