Yesterday my 4 year-old shed gigantic alligator tears over having missed out on the opportunity to feed the dog. “But EEEYYYEEE wanted to do THAT!” he cried with his big pouty lower lip sticking straight out. While helping my son learn to manage his emotions, I realized that athletes need to do this as well, especially during a stage race or track events where there may be more than one event in a day. Here is what I tell my preschooler and what I sometimes have to remind myself:
- It’s ok to feel sad, but you still have to be nice to others. My son’s reaction to his disappointment was to yell at me and call me names like, “Meanie Fat Head!!” I think it’s perfectly normal to feel sad or disappointed, but reacting in this way doesn’t accomplish anything. Could you imagine if after a disappointing race I went back to the team area and called someone names? Anything said after that would not be heard or productive. So, feel what you feel, but remember to be respectful of others when you react.
- Use your big boy/girl voice. After calming my son down and wiping a few tears away, I asked him to tell me why he was sad or what he wanted to happen instead. I ask this of him so that he practices putting his feelings into words and communicating with others. Sometimes he doesn’t know what to say and asks for help, which is also using his bog boy voice. In the case of racing, if I felt like something didn’t go well, I’d verbalize what I felt like could have been done differently. If I’m not sure what happened or I’m lacking brain function to process anything immediately after a race besides the need for a Coke, I’d ask for help like a big girl.
- Process and move on. Once my son used his big boy voice, I did a quick review of what happened, what he learned, and suggested we focus on a new activity. Dwelling on the issue further wouldn’t help him learning anything more and I found that he enjoyed the new activity better after the disappointment was put behind him. After a disappointing time trial at a stage race, I processed (lack of experience, lack of specific training, and a mental block to time trialing) and moved on (get ready to race again!).
Of course, there is an underlying need to manage expectations so as to mitigate some of the inevitable disappointments. Communicate your needs and wants to those around you. Speak up, because no one is a mind reader. Additionally, ask what is expected of you or what needs to be done for you to meet the standards you’ve set for yourself, because “we don’t rise to the level of our expectations – we fall to the level of our training.” -Archilochus, Greek Soldier