I’m an Athlete with an Unsupportive Coach

In an earlier post I commented on coaches’ misguided attempts to motivate athletes. It certainly can be extended beyond just what coaches say to their general treatment of athletes; from preferential treatment, playing one against another, snubs, to physical punishments.

OK so you’re on such a team with such a coach now what do you do? Aside from the obvious – change teams – which may or may not always be practical; here is the bottom line: your motivation is only your motivation and no one else’s.

One of the foundational understandings in mental game training is to become a master at “controlling the controllables”. What are the controllables?

  • Your attitude
  • Your actions
  • Your inactions
  • Things you say
  • Your self-talk
  • Your thoughts
  • Your feelings
  • Your reactions
  • Your focus
  • Your mindset
  • Your motivation

[Did you see a theme in this list?]

Mentally tough athletes hone their skills to be able to master themselves! They control the one thing that they truly control. And they learn to do this in the most trying situations. You do not control your coach, parents, or opponents. (You may try to influence them but ultimately, they will decide if you can or not. Not you.)

How you control the controllables varies by person, by sport, and by situation. There is no single answer (if there were I’d either be out of work or very rich). Here are a couple approaches to consider:


Reframing is a method of taking an existing situation (the objective situation – not your interpretation) and putting a different spin on it. That is, you put it in a different frame to view it differently. For example, often if it’s a windy day or a coach has negative comments – athletes “frame” it as a bad day to compete; or a put down or that you are not liked or not going to play first string. You have in that instance framed it in a way that will assuredly make you feel worse and perform worse. You could choose to reframe the wind in a way like this: It’s the same for everyone. Or, it’s making me tougher. Or, this is a good test for me. And you can reframe the coach’s comments as “character builders” or that the coach has “good intentions” to improve you. In any case you have disarmed the negative original framework you applied. It’s your choice. But it also takes practice to build this habit of mentally tough thinking.


A second powerful technique is your ability to focus and refocus. Your thoughts lead your emotions which greatly affect your performance. If you choose to focus on and replay negative comments or situations it is bound to drag you and your performance down. You need to hone your ability to refocus on what is relevant at the moment – and it is not bemoaning your lot in life, the wind or a demeaning comment or snub from a coach. Your focus (refocus) must be on the task at hand. You control whether you will focus on the extraneous things or your performance. And since you only control you and your effort, your energy and focus had better go into the task at hand.

Reframing and refocusing take discipline and practice. If these were as easy as posed then everyone would be able to do it. And we know that is not true. The principles are simple… not easy. Taking ownership comes first and then consistent practice is the key.

Need help with your mental game? Are you on one of “those” teams? Do you have one of “those” coaches? Drop me a line – I can help you through it.


About Dean Hebert

I’m a mental game coach, author and speaker. I work with individual athletes, parents, coaches, and teams on sports performance enhancement. Beyond my academic post-graduate work in sports psychology - the psychology behind athlete performance – I am a certified Mental Games Coaching Professional (MGCP) and certified hypnotherapist. I’ve authored several books and hundreds of articles. “Coach, I didn’t run because…” (2008) is a seriously light-hearted look at making excuses not to workout and how to overcome them. “Focus for Fitness” (2009) and “Screw the Goals Give me the Donut” (2010) are two of my eBooks on mental game approaches for the everyday athlete. I wrote these because I believe that everyone can benefit from the powerful mental techniques that the world’s best athletes use. I have been cited in Runners World, Best Health magazine (CN), SWEAT Magazine, and the Washington Examiner amongst many other publications. I have been a featured mental games coach in Runner’s World and for the internationally acclaimed trail running resource - trailrunningclub.com. I also regularly appear on sports and fitness talk shows such as LTKFitness, Runnersroundtable and for more than three years I have co-hosted a weekly video series with Coach Joe English for Running-Advice.com. I specialize in mental toughness training. My clients include tennis, synchronized swimming, golf, race-kart, soccer, motocross, volleyball, MMA, cycling (road, off-road, time-trialist), running, duathlon and triathlon, basketball, football and baseball athletes. I have coached world-class athletes and athletes internationally. I have a passion for working with youth athletes and helping them apply mental game skills and techniques to all areas of life. Most importantly, my aim is to have people enjoy sports and life to their fullest through peak performances.
This entry was posted in Confidence, Goal Setting, Mental Game, Mental Toughness, Running, Sports Psychology and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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