Additionally, young achievement-motivated athletes are in a position of subordination where they must rely on coaches and teachers for knowledge acquisition. Without the proper guidance, or at least the perception of such, there is a sense that ones needs are not being met. This is where power struggles manifest and young driven athletes are faced with emotional discontent and frustration. Essentially, goals are unattainable due to the perceived incompetence of the people required to educate, support, and acknowledge these young achievers.
Frustration, in this case, is a normal and appropriate response. It is felt because the athlete has a strong desire to achieve a goal, but something or someone is preventing that from happening. There are varying degrees of frustration, anywhere from forgetting your favorite comfortable socks to not being put in the game. In all experiences though, the athlete fixates on an uncontrollable factor that can affect one’s ability to achieve. If frustration endures and is not controlled, it can easily spiral into anger or anxiety.
On the one hand, anger develops when an athlete is unable or unwilling to use aggression (communicate needs; go after what you want) to overcome obstacles. This may often be the case with younger athletes, as they are more likely to feel that communicating one’s needs is intimidating or inappropriate. Subsequently, the feeling of anger is internalized and attacks the athlete’s sense of worth. Thus, making failed attempts for achievement momentarily more bearable. The idea is:
I am not worthy of achieving what I want so it’s not that bad if I don’t achieve.
On the other hand, frustration can develop into anxiety when an athlete is unable or unwilling to declare their desire to be good. As young athletes develop, the need to achieve gains strength and momentum – especially when they continually accomplish challenging tasks. Yet, when a big obstacle is perceived - like an unsupportive coach – it seems almost natural for a young athlete to deny that they had any such desires to be good. As a result, anxiety begins to manifest in the belief that “I am not good enough.” Like anger: this, in turn, makes failed attempts for achievement momentarily more bearable. Here, the idea is:
I will not admit that I want to be good so when I do not achieve, it doesn’t hurt as much.
The need for achievement can be a very powerful tool for success, but as you can see it does not exempt an athlete from emotional adversity. For younger achievers, it is more common to experience a power struggle that can build into an enduring obstacle. In order to sustain a healthy need for achievement, an athlete must first become aware of their values in sport. Is it more important for you to work hard, have self-respect, and humility OR to be committed, organized and persistent? What are the values that drive you? Then, if frustration kicks in, take control of your journey towards excellence by recognizing how your values conflict with those who stand in your way. There will always be people that you don’t agree with, but to avoid an enduring obstacle, you must know where you end and they begin. If a healthy need for achievement exists, then achievement is what you will find at the end of each day.
- What do you want to achieve in your sport?
- I want to be the star player.
- I want to be the best. And I want to continue playing with boys.
- Why do you want such achievements?
- It feels good. I work hard and want to be recognized for that.
- Makes people proud of me, especially my parents.
- What/Who stands in your way?
- My coach hasn’t been supporting me lately.
- My teammates don’t acknowledge all that I do. They just point out my mistakes.
- When you are faced with this obstacle, which emotion(s) do you experience?
- I feel anxious before practice and intimidated by him.
- They make me feel like I don’t belong. I feel angry and want to yell, but I know that will only hurt my teammates or get me in trouble and I don’t want to do that.
- How does this affect your ability to achieve?
- I am afraid of taking chances and doing the wrong thing.
- I don’t want to show my skills and make a mistake that leads to a goal.
In both cases, the young athletes present with a need to achieve, yet they are faced with a realistically frustrating obstacle that has triggered a deeper emotional response. The reason that frustration is an okay response in both cases is because the perceived obstacle (coach/teammates) is out their control. The only way to remove it entirely would be to change teams, which teaches an athlete to avoid, as opposed to mange, emotions.
Once the source has been identified, it is time to develop some valuable mental skills that can help control frustration and continually strive for excellence. The following are three critical mental skills with descriptions of how they apply to controlling frustration:
1. Deep Breathing:
Breathing may seem straight forward, but all too often athletes get in the habit of holding their breath in with the frustration, anger, or anxiety. Additionally, when such emotions are triggered, consider the physiological reaction inside your body. Your heart pumps faster while arteries restrict, causing a decrease in the free flow of oxygen and inhibiting performance muscles.
To manage this reaction, it is beneficial to take three deep cleansing breaths with an inhalation/exhalation ratio of 1:2. For example, take a deep breath in through your nose for 4 seconds and then exhale slowly through pursed lips for 8 seconds. When exhaling be sure that all of your breath clears from the lungs to create a suction effect for the next cleansing breath. The more this is practiced, the more habitual is can become in necessary situations.
2. Focus on controllables/tasks:
The need for achievement is a subjective experience based upon one’s feeling of accomplishment during a performance. Therefore an athlete can feel pride and accomplishment without winning or being praised. However the ability to stay focused on factors within one’s control becomes increasingly challenging when faced with a powerful obstacle. For example, an athlete can be performing very well yet the coach subs him out and he never goes back in the game. Although the athlete felt pride and achievement from his performance, the coach made a decision that seemed contradictory to those feelings. Maintaining a focus on improving and controlling what is controllable can help to remind you that obstacles do not define who you are as a person and athlete; it is how you handle them that matters most.
3. Goal setting:
If your needs are not being met by the world around you it is increasingly important to continue the process of achievement on your own. Taking control over the learning process can help quell frustration by replacing it with determination and perseverance. Athletes must learn to compartmentalize the path to success and work week-by-week to accomplish goals that are specific and measurable. The following questions can help you to organize this process:
1. What do you want to achieve?
2. What do you need to improve?
3. What do you need to do to make those improvements?
Answering such questions may require some extra training and research done outside of the team/sport setting, but it promotes problem solving and accountability towards developing. As a result, determination and perseverance prosper over frustration.
The need for achievement is considered a personality trait that can be developed from a very young age with the influence of parenting. Striving for excellence is an enjoyable journey for most, but along the way there are inevitable obstacles that will illicit frustration. If not controlled, such frustration can turn the experience into a painful duty riddled with deeper emotions like anger and anxiety. For younger athletes, in particular, it is important to learn the three mental skills of deep breathing, refocusing, and goal setting to prevent burnout and to promote continued achievement during a crucial time of development.