Mental performance coaches are often tasked with educating the parents of young athletes of the benefits associated with mental skills training. However, it is in the context of how mental skills can help their children. This is no surprise as the parents of the athletes are our clients too. They are the ones making the “buying” decisions for their children. However, would you believe that mental skills training can help parents just as much as they can help their student-athlete children?
It stands to reason that parents can benefit from mental skills training because parents, like their young athletes, are high-pressure performers. Parents are responsible for ensuring the safety of their children, meeting the financial needs of the household, and taking care of everything in between. Parents of high performing athletes often wear many additional burdens as chauffeur, cheerleader, and coach. I think most parents would tell you that they feel responsible for being at full capacity for their athlete all of the time. However, in my view, this is asking a lot and perhaps unrealistic. Parents have the many responsibilities that I outlined above. In addition, parents often have a deep-rooted emotional investment in the success of their young athlete. Wearing all of these hats can make it very difficult for parents to show up at full strength all of the time. So what can parents do to put themselves in the best possible frame of mind to show up for their child in the way they need to?
I recently came across a great quote that I think fits well in the context of this topic. “You are not required to set yourself on fire to keep others warm.” Thank you to Anonymous for this gem. This immediately made me think of parents of young athletes. We (I’m a parent of two young athletes) often feel compelled to put ourselves completely off to the side for the sake of our children. We think our kids need more specialized training, better equipment, year-round competition, and even MORE of our energy. This comes at a steep financial, time, and sanity cost. We are often busier on weekends than we are during the work week. And, if our children have bad performances in a game? We, like them, are often distraught. We instinctively question and criticize them and ourselves. What could they and I have done differently, better, more?
Just like athletes, high-performing parents can suffer from a loss in confidence, motivation, and focus. Also like athletes, parents need to build their “toolbox” of mental skills in order to show up to the best of their ability for their children. Oftentimes, this requires parents to put their oxygen mask on first as flight attendants typically instruct on a plane. They might give themselves a break from their child’s sport activities. However, stepping back may not be realistic, especially for single parents or parents in multi-child families. So, what can parents do to create space to improve their mental and emotional well-being amidst the chaotic world of youth sports?
- Practice breathing exercises. It may sound silly or overly simplistic, but learning how to use our breath effectively can help us to manage the stress and overwhelm associated with everyday life. One example might be taking deep diaphragmatic (i.e., belly) breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth during a stress part of your son or daughter’s big game. Inhale for a two-count and exhale for a four-count. Diaphragmatic breathing helps to slow the heart rate and relax muscle tension.
- Practice mindfulness. The stress or anxiety we feel during a particularly challenging situation or day is related to the brain’s uncanny desire to focus on the negative. We might be compelled to dwell on something negative that happened in the past or have an anticipatory anxiety for what the future holds, like “is my kid going to get an athletic scholarship?” Our mind often gravitates toward what we can’t control. Practicing mindfulness teaches us to observe what is actually happening in the present moment without any judgment. Being mindful in a stressful situation can make things A LOT easier. Often times, being mindful means simply paying attention to our breathing to anchor ourselves in the present moment.
- Have a reset routine. What in the world is a reset routine? A reset routine is something you do when a negative thought, feeling, or situation arises. The first step of being aware of that negative is key, which is where mindfulness really helps. Once we know we are thinking or feeling negatively, then we can DO something to reset ourselves back to neutral in the present moment. An athlete might speak the phrase “next play” to his or herself or perhaps look at a phrase or acronym that they write on their person to refocus. For a parent, you might tell yourself, “my kid needs me” or “be here” in order to reset. Reset routines are different for everyone. However, the purpose is to have a consistent approach to bounce back from challenging situations as quickly as possible.
Hopefully, this blog post was valuable. Please feel free to reach out to me any time with questions at email@example.com.
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