So if logic understanding isn’t enough then what is this fear truly about? The short answer: emotions. In my experience both as a consultant and an athlete, I know that feelings of disappointment, embarrassment, guilt, and helplessness are a natural part of the sport journey. There is no way of removing them from the experience, yet most people are terrified to feel them. It’s as if the feeling of disappointment indicates that the person is a disappointment. In other words, emotions are being taken on as disposition rather than a temporary physiological state.
I’m sure most athletes have heard the phrase “let go of your mistakes” at one point or another so if the fear is really of an emotional state, then we must learn to let go of the emotion. I like to think of the process as a spirit passing through my body for a moment’s time. Allow your self to experience the emotions, without judgment, and then give them permission to fade away. In order to accomplish this goal I encourage athletes to truly feel disappointed, or embarrassed, or helpless and know that it is okay to feel those things. And then I teach them to remind their self that the feeling is not a representation of who you are as a person.
For some, the emotions can be quite overwhelming making it difficult to breath and focus on performing. So if the feeling is intense enough try using deep breathing skills to help your body circulate the emotion and move it along its course. Remember, emotions are associated with a physiological change in the body so to help you move out of an unfavorable physiological state, you must first breath.
As a coach or parent, give your athletes an opportunity to label how they feel about mistakes or failure. Many actually don’t know and may say “bad” or “not good,” which are mood states – not emotions – and can cause fears and excessive worry. So instead of telling athletes “just be confident” or “don’t be upset,” lets take the fear of feeling uncomfortable by reiterating the message, “it’s okay to feel __________________ .“ And in this process of developing emotional acceptance, you will encourage more mentally resilient, focused, and fearless athletes.