By Dr. Alan Goldberg
Are you struggling with a seemingly mysterious performance problem? Have you or your athlete suddenly lost BASIC abilities?
FINALLY understand where this FRUSTRATING problem comes from and what you can do about it!
What a lot of athletes, parents and coaches don’t realize is that underpinning most repetitive sports performance problems, slumps and blocks, is one or more physically or emotionally upsetting sports events. These can be actual physical injuries like a broken wrist, torn ACL, concussion, badly sprained ankle, a painful collision with an opponent, a bad fall off a horse or an apparatus in the gym, or getting hit by a pitch, etc.
The upsets can also be more emotional, like the fear associated with a scary fall in the gym, being embarrassed or humiliated in front of teammates by a coach or suffering some other form of negative performance experience, i.e choking, failing or getting cut from a team, etc.
These upsetting physical and/or emotional experiences get stuck in the athlete’s mind and body, either immediately showing up as performance problems right after the event, or lying dormant for any number of weeks or months before rearing their ugly little head. These kinds of performance blocks are particularly resistant to more normal kinds of interventions by parents, coaches or peak performance experts. It seems that no matter what the athlete, parents or coaches try, the block, fear or slump will not release its’ nasty grip. Of course, the athlete’s futile efforts to extricate him/herself only leads them deeper and deeper into the maze of increasing frustration, decreasing self-confidence and increasing performance anxiety that always seems to make the whole situation that much worse.
WHAT COACHES AND PARENTS NEED TO KNOW
So many of these fear-based blocks don't make logical sense to the adults involved. Parents and coaches can clearly see that there seems to be no apparent reason for the athlete to struggle. In an attempt to be helpful and get the athlete unstuck, they may begin to pressure the athlete or attribute his/her performance difficulties to being “willful,” “stubborn” or simply not trying hard enough. This kind of reaction from the athlete’s parents or coaches frequently serves as yet another source of upset for the athlete and makes him/her feel even less safe. The end result: The athlete gets that much more stuck.
Understand that no athlete would ever deliberately choose to be stuck, paralyzed by performance fears or consistently fall apart under pressure. Demanding that the athlete simply “just do it” or “go for it” is of absolutely NO constructive value to them. If it were as simple as making a conscious decision to not be afraid up at the plate, throw a back tumbling pass, or aggressively go hard for that 50:50 ball, then they would! What will be far more helpful as a parent or coach would be for you to be supportive, patient, kind and understanding. Impatience with and intolerance of these kinds of problems will only serve to make the athlete feel that much more unsafe, and therefore more stuck!
Dr. Alan Goldberg is a nationally-known expert in the field of applied sport psychology, Dr. Goldberg works with athletes and teams across all sports at every level, from professional and Olympic caliber right down to junior competitors. He is the author of 25 mental toughness training programs and Director of Competitive Advantage. His website is www.competitivedge.com.