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My athletes get frustrated with themselves

Answered By Dr. Margaret Smith

Question

A lot of my athletes in recent years seem to get frustrated with themselves, and when I remind them that they know how to play and they have been in the situations that are frustrating them before and done well, they tell me, "I'm harder on myself than anyone" or "I'm working so hard and I keep messing up." How do I get them to lighten up and just play the game? They know how!

Answer

Good question Coach! Confidence is an ongoing process. Developing and sustaining it takes work -- work that is easily interrupted by the multitude of distractions and interactions that confront your athletes (and all of us) every day. Growth and improvement are personal journeys, but they happen in the context of athletes' lives and all the relationships in them. And sport performance is inherently public. So it helps to know more about how the athlete sees what is at stake in the performance. What athletes think is at stake is going to influence what they're saying to themselves in and around their performances (performances in training or in competition). What they are saying to themselves in their minds - and how they are saying it - is the single most important variable involved in developing and sustaining confidence. Of course, what they are saying to themselves is connected to what they hear and see around them, so it is important to know how they are interpreting this. Those interpretations will color athletes' self-talk. Fortunately, it is very possible for athletes to learn how to interpret their environments in ways that are productive for them in the game and in life! Positive self-talk fosters confidence. Positive self-talk is much more than simply giving oneself some compliments. It's not easy, but with practice, it becomes more and more engrained in athletes' preparation and performance. Elite athletes are intentional about how they talk to themselves. They don't leave it to chance, and they work to ensure that they can turn "talk" from all their performances and relationships and interactions into belief in themselves and the opportunities they have ahead. Check out this short piece on self-talk, and please do reach out if you'd like to work more on self-talk with your athletes!

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