#166: “How Do I Get My Athlete To Stop Being So Hard On Herself?”

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Are you a sports parent wondering how to support your young athlete in overcoming self-criticism and negative self-talk?

It’s a common concern, especially among girl athletes. They often find themselves being overly hard on themselves, fixating on their mistakes, and struggling to maintain a positive mindset after competitions or training sessions.

So, how can you help your athlete shift from self-criticism to a more productive mindset? In this article, we’ll delve into some practical strategies to address this issue and provide your athlete with the tools to navigate their mental game effectively.

Understanding the Challenge

Parents often face situations where their athletes appear to focus only on the negatives, even when good things happen. It can be baffling when, after a game, match, or training session, your athlete insists that everything was terrible, despite you witnessing several positive aspects of their performance. They tend to ruminate on their mistakes, getting stuck in a cycle of self-criticism and negativity.

Moreover, these negative emotions from practice or competitions can linger for hours or even days, affecting your athlete’s confidence and self-worth. These behaviors may indicate that your athlete lacks the skills needed to process their thoughts and emotions effectively, which is not uncommon.

Unrealistic Standards and Perfectionism

Many athletes struggle with perfectionism, which often leads to excessive self-criticism. They set unrealistic standards for themselves, believing they must be flawless and never make mistakes. However, the reality of sports is that it’s a game of mistakes, and no one can maintain an unrealistic standard of perfection. This mindset becomes a major source of self-criticism when athletes inevitably fall short.

The Role of Automatic Negative Thoughts

Every athlete experiences automatic negative thoughts (ANTs) – those intrusive and unproductive thoughts that pop into their minds. It’s essential to understand that negative thoughts are normal, and the goal is not to eliminate them entirely but to change the athlete’s relationship with them. Developing the skill to recognize unproductive thoughts, shift them to something more constructive, and regain focus is crucial. This is a skill that can be learned through mental training.

Associating Achievements with Self-Worth

Many athletes link their achievements and outcomes directly to their self-worth. They believe that what they do in their sport defines who they are as individuals. This dangerous connection can lead to a downward spiral of self-criticism when they don’t perform up to their own unrealistic standards. It’s vital for athletes to understand that their sport is a part of who they are, but it doesn’t encompass their entire identity.

How to Help Your Athlete

Now that we’ve explored the challenges your athlete faces let’s delve into how you can help them overcome self-criticism and develop a healthier mindset.

  • Shift the Focus. Redirect your praise and recognition away from outcomes and achievements. Instead, emphasize qualities like attitude, effort, preparation, and resilience. Encourage your athlete to concentrate on what’s within their control.
  • Validate Emotions. When your athlete is struggling with self-criticism, provide them with a safe space to express their emotions. Avoid downplaying their feelings or pushing for immediate positivity. Validate their experiences and ask open-ended questions to understand their perspective.
  • Encourage Mental Training. Mental training is a skill that can be learned and developed. Support your athlete in acquiring tools to improve their mental game. This training will prepare them for the inevitable challenges they’ll face in their sports journey.

The Bottom Line

Helping your athlete overcome self-criticism is a crucial part of their development as both an athlete and an individual. By shifting their focus, validating their emotions, and providing them with mental training tools, you’ll equip them to navigate the mental challenges of sports successfully.

Remember, these skills provide your athlete with a competitive advantage, ensuring they can thrive even in the face of adversity. Good luck!

Episode Highlights: 

[00:00] Helping young athletes overcome self-criticism.

[01:57] Helping athletes overcome self-criticism after performances.

[05:27] Negative thoughts and self-worth in athletes. Athletes often struggle with negative self-talk and self-worth issues due to their association of achievements with their self-worth.

[08:44] Supporting athletes’ mental health. Parents can support athletes by shifting recognition towards their effort, preparation, and response to adversity, rather than solely focusing on outcomes.

[13:23] Helping young athletes overcome self-criticism and develop mental toughness. The importance of mental training for athletes, particularly in handling loss and failure.

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