The talent balance
To all coaches and parents doing the rigid work of raising kids and who see their talented athlete hit a slump, remember this; before battling reactive internal disruptive behaviors and worries, take time to first love you. So many of us are there with you; frustrated and trying to do all the right stuff. And, with the pressure of high-level sports, there is a true calling to boost each other, lend support on the down days, celebrate the good days – the reaches, the catches, sticks and victories -- as well as minimize and learn from the flat-out disasters. First love you, then love them.
Have you ever wondered why a naturally talented athlete struggles to pull themselves out of a “slump” more than a paced developer? Possibly because their first challenge occurs much later in their career than that of a paced developer. Complex achievements at a young age may cause later challenges to seem greater. Because of this inverted process of achievement, it is often helpful to coach a naturally talented athlete in a different way.
Let us take a few lessons from Parkour
In the early 2000s the buzz on the street was Parkour, a French word for the sport of moving along a route, through obstacles in the quickest manner possible, by jumping, climbing, or running. Along with this rebirth of street-nastics, came the trend of Ninja Warrior training, a retro perspective of fitness agility, which swept the country by storm. I became more familiarized with the eclectic movement’s customs, upon a recent visit to a to Parkour and Ninja Warrior gym with my 2 boys and their friend. Opportunely, I realized the free-style format of teaching could improve some of the negative trends present in traditional Americanized sport training.
The warped wall walkaway
As I watched my son, a determined 13 year-old, attempt to reach the top of the warped wall (a common obstacle in the official Ninja Warrior Course) I felt inclined to give advice. Instead, I paused. I watched him continually run, reach, miss, slide, shake-it-off, and repeat. Coincidentally an instructor strutted in and stood with my son at the bottom of the wall.
With intention he stated, “Keep your chest up at the top” – adding the encouragement -- “you got this bud.” Then he walked away.
More attempts, more slides and still no success. My son moved on to some flips into the pit. He later hopped back over the wall, and the instructor subtly continued to watch him. More attempts more slides, but no comments from anyone. Off to a few more flips in the pit and jumps through the Parkour course. A third set of attempts were performed, coupled with a simple “come on, you’re there,” from the instructor. Again, more slides, more attempts and then finally a catch! He reached the top, hung with one arm and turned with a huge grin.
If a coach or parent was harping corrections, this connection would have been delayed. The subtle support paired with the opportunity to silently feel which physical adjustments were necessary enabled him to mentally nestle within his muscles, listen and feel, instead of worry and try to impress. The same subtle support is needed when a naturally talented athlete is beginning to fail or settle into a slump.
Try the following tips the next time you are in the presence of a naturally talented but struggling athlete:
· Pause before commenting – take a few mindful seconds to calculate the most helpful thing(s) to say.
· Readjust your stance to err on the side of confidence. Get in a posture that says, “You can do this.” Remember your body language is important!
· Use simple short phrases
· Remind them, “Out of the head, and more into the body.”
· Frequently ask the question, “What do you need to be doing/feeling to reach [insert objective]?”
· Remember that changes occur with brain-breaks. Liken an athlete learning a skill to the theory of “chunking;” a little correcting then time to adjust and attempt the challenge on their own. This provides the brain time to digest constructive criticism.
Lastly, as a coach, even as a parent, or teacher, carry around a Parkour poise. You might not always feel ready to whip out a flip, but you can stand-up, pause, take a breath, and insert a thought of positivity. Then keep working, keep trying to stay chill, trust, and be patient. It will get better. Your athlete will rise if you believe they will. It sounds too soft and squishy for sport – but too bad – because when Jen Hatmaker says -- keep loving, and keep forgiving ourselves when it all goes sideways – you should listen. Avoid leaving training feeling depleted – strive to embrace feeling challenged, motivated and ready to bust a move in the right direction.