Advice from a Athletic Mental Health Therapist
The first thing Ill say here is that it is totally OK to be nervous before you play. We spend a lot of time telling athletes to “not” be nervous but it actually makes a lot of sense that you WOULD get nervous before you play!
Often times this resistance to getting nervous or not wanting to get nervous amplifies what you are feeling
Start by checking out this post:
I encourage all my athletes to gauge or assess how their performance anxiety is impacting them. You can do this alone, with a teammate, coach or a licensed professional. Performance anxiety shows up uniquely for each athlete. No 2 athletes will experience it quite the same.
I know many athletes that have pre performance anxiety and it doesn’t actually negatively impact them! Many athletes feel that their “nerves” fuel them and help them. So start by seeing HOW the nerves are showing up and impacting YOU.
If they are - there are SO MANY things that can be helpful like utilizing coping skills, all of which are going to be very individual and unique to you. I am a huge fan of movement or body based techniques like grounding, breath work, walking etc. This is where it can be really helpful to work with someone that is licensed or has knowledge / background in working with anxiety and performance!
Start by checking out this post:
I know so many athletes out there are navigating injury and ACL’s in particular. I am so sorry. I know firsthand what this is like and it is NOT easy. We need to normalize the wide range of emotions and feelings that come with this.
Please know that what you're feeling is real and I think its really important to allow time and space for that grieving process if you CANT return to sport. I would encourage anyone in this position to really tap in to your support system! Who are your people that are going to walk alongside you in this new normal without sport right now.
Sometimes - the challenges we face in life are simply about meeting yourself where you are, providing yourself with compassion and care and being patient.
Very generally, I think of stress as the accumulation of “load” on our mind/body system. Anything in life can be “load” but for student athletes a lot of the “load” is school, sports, relationships, pressure from parents or coaches, etc.
We all deal with stress - stress can be both good and harmful and a lot of this has to do with our capacity or bandwidth to navigate it.
I am a huge fan of helping athletes think about navigating stress on a daily (sometimes HOURLY) basis. We often get hit that “stressed” out place because things build and build and build. If we are tackling our mental, emotional and physical health on a daily basis to manage this - we can help ourselves out.
1️⃣ Think about how you can stay organized with all you have on your plate (to do lists, reminders, calendars). The more organized we are with our “load” and things on our plate the better chance we give ourselves to meet the demands.
2️⃣ Carve out daily time in your day to “de-stress”
-talking to someone/ therapy / coach
-journaling / writing / reflecting
-meditation / breath work
3️⃣ When we are stressed - i highly encourage my athletes to prioritize and emphasize the basics. These enable us to simply take care of ourselves well. This will allow us to then HANDLE stress.
Navigating Your Love For The Game
Ill start by normalizing losing your love for sport. It is absolutely ok, normal and human for our love/passion/desire/motivation to ebb and flow with life.
We lose our love of sport for a variety of reasons (our interests/goals change, a coach etc) and what we dont want to do is shame someone (or ourselves) for this.
Let me be clear: It is OK to walk away from your sport if your your interests, passions and goals have changed. That is human and it is OK. But in order to come to that conclusion I think its important an athletes takes some time to assess WHY this might be the case.
Start by taking some time to reflect on WHY you might be losing your love for the game. Can you do this with a sense of compassion and curiosity rather than criticism or beating yourself up? Try reflecting on when you started playing the sport, what got you started and what has kept you going up until this point. Is it possible to find ways to reconnect with this? Are there actionable items you can take to do so?
Try talking to someone you trust! This can be your parents, coach, teammates, friends who DONT play your sport with you. It can absolutely be helpful to get an outside perspective. Be clear about what you are looking for when you speak with this person (just someone to listen, someone to bounce ideas off of, advice).
Its also ok to take time AWAY from sport. Contrary to popular belief its actually healthy to take breaks. Depending on where you are in your season or training can you take some time away? If not - how can you find time in your week/day to step away from sport and do other things that provide you joy, happiness and fun!
We ALL need mental health breaks.
I would encourage you to think first about WHAT you want your mental health break to look like. You might not know right this second but gaining clarity on that will then help you communicate what you NEED from your coach. Talk to your parents or someone you trust about this.
With hard or difficult convos i love to spend time writing down what I will say before i go in to them. Write down what you’d like to express to your coach. I am someone who loves honesty so I will always be an advocate for being honest with your coach but making sure you are doing so in a way that protects your boundaries. Share as much or as little as you would like about what you are navigating (your safety and mental health journey are your own, you get to decide what you share and don’t share)
Depending on your age - do you want your parents to help you with this conversation with your coach?
How to Gain Your Confidence Back
When we are struggling with confidence it can sometimes be helpful to take a step back and do a player eval on ourselves. We can do this by ourselves, with a coach or with someone we trust that knows the game.
Its always greet to reflect on
-what is going well
-where are areas of my game i need to improve on
-where am i finding challenges right now
as well as
-what are the strengths of my game?
-what makes me ME?
From this - a lot of times players can walk away with some tangible/actionable items to be focusing their energy on. Again utilize people you trust to help you here if needed. Key reminder i that confidence isn’t a “switch” we just turn on. We work at it, build it daily (sometimes hourly in training). Getting more intentional in WHERE we are putting our focus for our performance can help
“Getting my confidence back” can feel like an overwhelming concept without a lot of direction. How can you break this down in to small, daily/weekly actionable items that are in your control
Emily Perrin is a mental health therapist and mindfulness coach as well as a former DI athlete and DI coach. Emily helps athletes learn to feel their emotions in a healthy way. She gives great tips on all the little things (and big) athletes can do to improve their mental health!
Check out Emily's website:https://www.perrinwellnessperformance.com/