You might have read my last blog post “Why are you nervous? Haven’t you had mental training?” This blog post is a follow up with LESSONS LEARNT #2 from the experience I’ve recently made at a youth comp – or rather, the observation & conclusion I have made.

To quickly summarize the incident: The other weekend, I was at a youth national comp. I was there to observe the whole competition on the one hand, on the other hand to observe how the athletes who I work with behave and deal with the situation.

Before isolation was closed, I overheard the following conversation between a girl and her mum. The girl had said to her mum that she was nervous before the climb. Her mum’s reaction was “Haven’t you had mental training? Why are you nervous?”

In my first “lessons learnt” post, I gave an insight in why it’s not necessarily a bad thing to be nervous. I believe that this incident also teaches and reminds us of something else: to become more aware of our own expectations towards other people and realistically reflect them.

Sport psychology can make a difference, particularly if the field is physically close together. It needs to be trained and “learnt” – as much as physical training. However, I think it’s necessary to be reminded that sport psychology is neither a magical solution to every problem nor can guarantee a win. Coaches, trainers, parents, training partners, facilities and obviously, most importantly, the athletes themselves (their strength, abilities, skills, technique, determination, etc.) – the whole environment together (among these of course the sport psychologist) plays a huge and important role. It’s one part of the puzzle – and even if we do have mental training and sport psychological support over a long period of time, there will still be times when we feel nervous, get emotional, or feel pressured (or anything else). It’s part of being human.

The same can happen to our physical performance: even though we train really hard and have a trainer who helps us improve, we can still slip off, get pumped, not be able to hold on anymore, not have the power, flexibility or implementation capacity to perform at our best. This, as well, is part of being human.

Both trainers, coaches and sport psychologists (etc.) support athletes to improve their performance, to become better at what they do and develop both as a person and as an athlete, as well as to minimalise mistakes and errors. At the same time, we have to acknowledge that no one can ever absolutely guarantee a perfect outcome, there is always an error probability. There is just as much you can do as a trainer, coach or sport psychologists, at the end of the day it’s up to the athletes who apply their strategies, do their training and apply what they learnt in a competition and up to many other uncontrollable variables like other competitors, route setting, weather conditions, etc. I like the image of trainers, coaches or sport psychologists opening a door. However, it’s the athletes that choose to go through that door or decide to stay outside.

So what do we learn from this incident: Firstly, it’s ok to be nervous – it can also be a good thing. Secondly, even if we had mental training, we might still get nervous every now and then (in a negative way). And that’s ok, it’s part of us being human. But situations like this will give us chance once more to learn how to better deal with it, analyse the situation and do better next time (both the athlete and sport psychologist). Thirdly, even if we have a really good trainer, we still might do badly or slip off or misread a route sometime. And that’s ok too, it’s part of us being human. Fourthly, maybe we can try to be more constructive to be actually supporting “our” kids in situations like this. Here are some suggestions how you could do so by asking your kid positively formulated, constructive, non-suggestive questions:

  • What kind of “nervous” is it? Is it a “good” or “bad nervous”? (Knowing, that being nervous is not only a negative thing)

  • What was your favourite strategy you learnt in mental training that could help you now that you are nervous?

  • What do you need right now? Is there anything that I can do to make you feel better?

  • How can I support you?

  • What would make you feel better? (e.g. in case it was a “negative nervous”)

What else can you think of? What has been helpful in the past when you or one of your athletes was nervous?

What do you generally think about this topic?