Many athletes tell me that the relationship with their coach is a challenge. The coach doesn’t communicate, they send mixed messages or the feedback is harsh and negative. I am going to talk a bit about the latter. Feedback can be difficult to hear. No one wants to hear that they are doing something ‘wrong’ particularly when we live in society where everyone is trying so hard to do everything ‘right’. We are all striving for perfection. Even though we know we need and should expect to get feedback there are times when we don’t like to hear it. The following are some of the reasons why: the delivery, the person and how it fits in to how we think about ourselves.
Yesterday was the first day (for me) with a new rowing coach. The entire practice I felt like I was on the firing range. He would say do this and before I had a minute to think about that he’d shift to something else. The entire practice I was shifting from this to that and I began to get frustrated. My mind starting going all over the place with ‘can you give me a second to practice this’, ‘coach G doesn’t fire things at me like this’, ‘I must really suck if I am doing all of this wrong’ and then it hit me: most of his feedback was good, he’s not coach G, and I probably needed to be pushed a little bit.
Feedback is not always going to come how & when you want it but you have a choice about how you respond to it. You can let it erode your practice/competition (spiral of negative thoughts, doubt, frustration, anxiety and muscle tension) or you can turn it around into something positive and learn from it. You also have a choice about how much information you take in and what you utilize. Ultimately you are in control of you!
Photo credit: Tim Hipps
Have you felt those feelings of regret that come along with making a mistake? It’s common to feel a sense of frustration and anger after making a mistake particularly in a sport like tennis where you are responsible for every shot and there is no one else to blame . For example, if your first serve doesn’t go in, you’ve made a mistake, it’s your fault and you will usually respond in a negative way.
Whether you’re an amateur or a pro, on your best day, you could make dozens of mistakes during the match: double faults, netted passing shots, and lobs that land out. Given this, it’s essential that you learn to deal with mistakes positively. Otherwise, you will always end up with those feelings of regret, called the should have’s, which potentially lead to anxiety, loss of confidence, nervousness and many more missed shots. In a match it’s easy to see a player who reaches his or her tolerance level for mistakes and begin to mentally break down: they throw their rackets, challenge calls, take longer timeouts and it shows in their body language.
There are several ways to recognize a mistake set it aside and move on but that takes evaluation and development of an individualized plan. For example, some athletes may recognize the mistake, take a deep breath and use a cue word to refocus their energy into the match. If serving, a pre-serve routine is often helpful to bring focus back to the current moment and the task at hand. Some athletes envision having a parking lot where they can ‘park’ their mistakes until later. This tricks the brain into letting go of the mistake knowing that you’ll come back to it later.
They provide feedback to your brain, specifically the part of your brain that controls motor coordination; how you hit your shots. When you’re learning a new shot or fine-tuning an old shot, the brain needs a wealth of information to figure out what constitutes a successful stroke: for example, the proper angle at which to hold your racquet face during a cross court volley.
When you hit a shot and miss, your brain tries to understand what went wrong and then attempts to make immediate corrections. With so many variables to consider, your brain may not be able to make sense of it all after the first, second, or even tenth attempt. Fortunately, every time you make a mistake, your brain factors in new information, processes it and sends it to your muscles. Your brain needs you to make mistakes so that you can learn and improve. Mistakes give you important information and knowledge. Knowledge is power.
Then you need time in practice, to practice using that plan so that in a match your response becomes automated. Ultimately, you want your mental refocusing plan to replace any negative thoughts and anger that you might currently have. Studies suggest that people who get angry over mistakes take longer to learn than people who are patient with themselves. The reason: while the first person’s wasting time and energy with anger and negativity, the second person is learning from mistakes and moving on. The next time you make a mistake try not to be angry with yourself. Instead, try taking a deep breath to refocus your energy on the task at hand. If you feel yourself getting angry again, take another deep breath.
A good predictor of success is a player’s persistence and drive. Persistent players are motivated by mistakes. For example, the more mistakes they make in executing a difficult shot, the more driven they are to master it so they keep trying until they get it right. You should try having a similar attitude particularly knowing how important mistakes are for gaining information, knowledge and improvement.
Photo credit: jbmthinks.com