Thursday, March 3, 2011

Helping the Frustrated Athlete

This article, written by Troy Bassham, appeared in the June 2009 Newsletter. It's a great article for parents and coaches who want to do more than simply coach their young athletes, but inspire and motivate them.

If this article interests you, you may be interested in attending our upcoming Coaches Training Seminar this summer. The seminar will cover concepts discussed in this article and much much more. For more information on the Coaches Training Seminar, call 972-899-9640.


Sometimes we don't get the results we want in life. It could be a bad grade on a report card, or a loss in a competition, or not performing up to standard. There are going to be many situations that will occur when a parent and or coach will have to deal with the frustrated player. So how do you handle someone who is upset and frustrated over their performance?

Anytime I am dealing with a young athlete, whether they are 10 or 19, I always remember the "Principle of the Picture"! This principle states, "It's not important what you say, it's critical what you cause the other person to picture." I handle their situation like I handle most of them, I follow three steps and make sure I remember the most important opportunity that I have at that moment (we'll get to that at the end).

Step 1: You must recognize the accomplishment
It doesn't matter how the performance went or what happened, we must look at the good that can come from it. I remember working with a young golfer, he was 17, and he was very upset with his score. He shot a 78 on a course that he knows very well. "I should have had par or better, but I messed up! I hate this feeling", he said in a frustrated tone. I asked him, "What went well today?" He replied, "I had a birdie on the first hole, but it was the only one I had all day." I said, "Great! What an accomplishment. Imagine if you birdied every first hole of every tournament you entered. How would that make you feel? It's like you to start the tournament well. You have had several tournaments where you started off with a birdie, that's great."

Step 2: Get the athlete involved with the solution
Once I praised him for his accomplishment I needed to address the issue at hand with caution. I want the individual to come up with some ways to help improve his game and the best way to do this is to ask them a question. "If you had a chance to prepare for this event all over, what are some of the things you would do differently to help insure that your good play would last the whole day?" This forces the individual to look at solutions and not focus on the problem or his bad performance. Kids are ten times more motivated to do something if the idea comes from them, rather than from an outside source. So by asking this question they create a possible solution to do better next time.

Step 3: Replace But with What
This is a carry over from step two, but it's important. I can't tell you how many times I have overheard a parent tell their kid what they did well, only to follow it up with BUT... The conversation after the word but is not a positive one. Both my girls play soccer and after a game you will usually hear parents express their praise or disbelief to their players. One time a coach made this comment to his daughter, "You played so well the first half, but what happened in the second half? You played horrible; it was like you didn't want to be there. You couldn't pass the ball; you weren't getting open for a pass, what gives?" Now ask yourself, "What do you think his daughter was picturing in her mind. I'm sure this father is only trying to help, but what the kid is picturing is it doesn't matter how good I do, you only focus on the bad. This will tear up the self image of the player and in some cases, it makes them leave the sport.

Instead of pointing out the good and following it up with but, follow it up with what. Let your child know what you're proud of and give them the due props for their accomplishments and then address the issue with what can we do to improve type of question. This will get them involved in the solution and make them feel like they are on the right path to success.

When this situation happens we have an opportunity to help build the player, this is an important thing to do as coaches and parents. Becoming is just as important, if not more important, as accomplishing. This situation allows us to help them become the athlete, student, or worker they want to become. The reason for short falls in performance often lie in the individual not having the proper habits and attitudes of the person they want to become. It's our job to help guide them toward obtaining habits and attitudes of champions so they can reach their goals.

Written by: Troy Bassham, Master Level Mental Management Instructor and Director of Junior Development for Mental Management Systems - to reach Troy send an email to


Anonymous said...

Great article.Very true as how to build a athlete to better themselves after each performance on the field or range. Even in life. Positive reinforcement in the key. Thanks for posting this.

Keshawn Durant said...

Very helpful and very much needed! Our young people and athletes need this.

Lanny Bassham said...

Thank you both for the kind remarks on this article! Troy has done an amazing job working with our junior athletes and their parents. If you know others who would enjoy this post please feel free to forward the link to anyone who needs to read it.

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