Comfort Zone: Stepping outside it to prosper
By Greg Bach
As much as young athletes would love to dodge disappointment, sidestep stress and be free of failing on game days, those experiences are part of everyone’s journey in sports.
And oh-so important for their development in many key areas, too.
“It’s unrealistic to think that we can live a life without some sort of stress or frustrations or failures or obstacles,” says Lauren Johnson, Mental Conditioning Coordinator for the New York Yankees. “A lot of times we don’t look at stress as necessarily a good thing, but I like to reframe that in terms of if there’s no struggle there’s no growth – we can’t grow in comfort. We actually grow when we’re just outside of our comfort zone and I look at stress as kind of right outside our comfort zone.”
WHAT STORY IS YOUR YOUNG ATHLETE TELLING?
Kids are going to feel the squeeze of that stress in all sorts of ways while striving to be at their best on game day.
And there will be plenty of times where they feel the sting of failing in the big moment.
But helping kids frame the messages they’re telling themselves amid the cloud of disappointment surrounding them is crucial for moving forward.
“The activating event is going to happen whether we like it or not,” Johnson says. “Stress and obstacles are going to happen, so the place where we have a lot of control over is the story we are choosing to tell ourselves.”
Finding the right words during these tough times can pack a powerful punch.
And move kids forward rather than having them drowning in doubt and negative thoughts.
“I don’t necessarily think that people need to lie to themselves but to create a story of resilience,” she says. “And what I mean by that is while they know they weren’t good in that moment they know that the more they try the better that they will become. So it becomes a more productive way of thinking, a more productive belief and a productive story that actually supports our progress rather than kind of setting us back.”
So it’s about helping youngsters accept that there will be rocky patches on their path, but it’s all about learning from those experiences and forging ahead.
“When it comes to discussions with your kids it’s not avoiding the failure, it’s not avoiding the obstacle and it’s not avoiding the feelings of frustration and self-doubt,” Johnson says. “But it is more so deciding what are the lessons we can pull from this? And choosing what we are going to do so that we can grow from it.”
Athletes crave consistency, and for those early in their athletic journeys it’s important to keep them focused in the moment rather than peeking too far ahead.
“I like to think of consistency as tiny daily wins strung together,” Johnson says. “I think a lot of people look at consistency and they look at the end result. They look at people like Aaron Judge and say how good he is, but what we forget is he has put in so many daily wins strung together to get that good.”
So as coaches and parents of young athletes, help them cultivate healthy habits that provide them with the best opportunities for growth.
“So for high school guys and girls and younger athletes I would say to see how many times you can string together daily wins,” she says. “And to remember that if you make a mistake that’s totally OK, but the best athletes don’t make the same mistake twice. So, for example, if you miss a day of workouts that’s OK, but don’t miss it twice, because when we make the same mistake twice now we’re building a habit in the opposite direction. So let’s build a habit of winning and stringing together those wins, and if we make a mistake see how quickly we can get back to that routine and get back to that workout so that we are building habits in the right direction.”
You can follow Lauren Johnson on Instagram and Twitter.
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Acclaimed psychologist Dr. Ethan Kross, author of Chatter, shares tips to help your young athletes use their inner voice to perform better when the pressure rises
Former NFL prolific pass-catching tight end Greg Olsen – dad of three and a busy volunteer youth coach these days – hosts the new podcast Youth Inc., featuring his conversations with athletes, coaches and psychologists covering different aspects of youth sports