Every athlete from the recreational to the elite competitor experiences frustration during training and/or competition. Whether it’s a skill they can’t seem to accomplish, a fear they can’t surpass, a feeling that they are lagging behind their peers; it can be so hard to watch your little athlete be in anguish! Besides being detrimental to their progress, not knowing how to channel frustration can become detrimental to their self-esteem as well. Although this is a problem no one can fix for them but themselves, there are certain things we can do to help them learn to transform that frustration in to determination for whatever it is that is holding them back!
1) Take Notice – The only way to help fix their frustration is to recognize that it is there! Really pay attention to their habits and emotions; do they avoid talking about a specific skill or practice, do they avoid practicing a certain skill, are they less excited to go to practice, are they distant with a teammate who is a close friend (this is where a peer-to-peer frustration can lie) etc… We have to take notice of their emotions because they will not always voluntarily share something that is making them feel insecure. Once you notice anything unusual ask them if something is bothering them! If they are distant keep pleading but not prying…
2) Reassurance – If you can get them to start talking we have already opened the door and now we need to walk up the stairs! First & foremost remind them that it is normal for them to feel the way they do and reassure them that every athlete has similar feelings just maybe about different things.
3) Keep It Conversational – Make sure your conversation continues to be interactive and not just a lecture because it is so important to hear all of their concerns; sometimes children interpret things so differently that we would not even begin to think about something that could be going through their head but is really bothering them inside.
4) Pinning Down The Problem – Get to the root of what is really bothering them. Sometimes a child will get frustrated over a variety of things, not know how to channel any of it, and ultimately get to a point where they don’t know concretely what is bothering them, they just don’t want to go to practice anymore…Try and make them pin point exactly what bothers them; a specific skill, they feel weak, they are jealous of another class/teammate for accomplishing something they wish to accomplish before them, they are scared etc… If it is a jealously issue we must remind them that everyone learns at their own pace and that they should be happy for a class/teammate when they accomplish something just as they would want someone to be happy for them! Also, we must remind them that the only way they will accomplish what they want is to on themselves instead of worrying about what other people are doing.
5) Ask Why – Ask them why they feel how they do; many times the answer will be “I don’t know” because their reactions/feelings are based solely on emotion and not logic. If we can get them to make switch over from pure emotion to logical thought then we can get them moving forwards and feeling better!
6) Reassure Again & Nip The Negative – Again reassure them that is normal to want to do something and feel like they are stuck at times BUT also tell them that the only way to fix that is for them to make a change in the way they approach the problem. If every time they approach “x” with a negative attitude they most likely will not get past it… If instead they approach it with the thought that “This time I am going to get it or if I don’t, I am going to get closer!” then they will start moving forwards. Many times we as people, especially child athletes, forget to celebrate each small accomplishment and only seem to look at the big picture which undoubtedly leads us to get frustrated when we don’t accomplish the whole thing! Ex: Our goal is at the top of the stairs and all we see is that we haven’t made it up the whole flight yet but maybe without even realizing it, we have already climbed 90% of the staircase which is a big accomplishment and we only have 10% left to achieve our big goal!
7) Point Out The Positive – Ask them what they HAVE accomplished throughout the one big thing they want to accomplish… Maybe they can complete the skill with greater ease, they can keep their arms or legs straight, they can land on their feet, they have less of a spot; have them pick out the improvements they already have made and then they will start to realize maybe they are closer than they thought!
8) Stating Steps – Have them tell you and help them figure out what steps they can take to fix the problem. These can be things like remembering the corrections they get on a skill and reciting them in their head before and throughout executing it (as simple as that sounds most athletes don’t remind themselves of how to do something while they do it until they are taught to think that way). It can also be simple positive key phrases like “I can do this” or “I didn’t get it this time but I will try harder on the next”… Whatever you decide together that they personally like to think of just make sure that the thoughts keep flowing positively. They have to know as long as they try, they will not and have not failed!
9) Goal Getter – Help them set small goals whether it is just to remember the steps you made together or technical skill goals (some sort of correction they received on it like keeping legs straight, jumping harder, etc.)
10) Performing the Plan – Now it’s time for them to go to practice what you planned out. Keep the positive reinforcement up without prying information out of them (they need to feel like you have their back, not that you are dragging them through a situation). If for example you ask how practice went and they are negative because they didn’t accomplish their big goal, keep reassuring them to try & tell them positive things like “The coach said you did it better” & remind them of their small accomplishments/steps.
These ten steps should leave them with a fresh new attitude and frustration free!