How to build confidence in female athletes

#75: Stopping The Spiral of Negative Thinking In Your Athlete Daughter

confidence mistakes podcast self-talk what to say May 10, 2022
 

Do you feel that your female athlete can’t get out of her own negative thoughts? Does it seem like her one mistake is leading to the dreaded spiral of negative thinking and then more mistakes?

Everything you say might not be getting through, and as her mom, you want to help her. 

But how exactly can you help?

The Spiral of Negative Thinking

First off, we need to fully understand what the spiral of negative thinking looks like and why it happens. Your daughter falling into the spiral of negative thinking could look and feel like a lot of things, such as:

  • Her one mistake is leading her to overthink many negative outcomes
  • She only focuses on the error in your car ride home
  • Her one mistake causes her to believe that she’s not good and will never be
  • There will be a lot of negative “what ifs”
  • Her negative feelings radiate and are felt by everyone in the family

These scenarios are not good at all. And it could feel rather difficult to handle. This kind of negativity should be taken seriously because our thoughts create reality. 

Imagine a circle/wheel with arrows around it. The head of each arrow points to the tail of another arrow forming a cycle. Let’s say there are 5 arrows in total that’s completing the circle. 

The first arrow is labeled as situation, and it’s pointing to another arrow labeled as thoughts. And then thoughts point to or lead to feelings/emotions. Next, emotions point to actions. Actions lead to results. Results lead back to the situation, thus creating the unending spiral.

Situation > Thoughts > Feelings/Emotions > Actions > Results

This reminds me of the coaching call I had with one of my ECP students. It was one of our check-in calls and one of the girls felt like she wasn't getting the feedback that she wanted. That situation leads her to think that her coach doesn’t like her. Given the situation, we don’t really know if that’s what her coach feels. Her negative thought leads her to feel like she’s not wanted, sad, and confused about what she did wrong.

Harboring these feelings inside her affected her plays. She hesitates and just doesn’t put herself out there. As a result, she feels like she’s not getting any better. 

The reason for the result she’s having would be pointed back to the situation that she’s not getting any feedback. Fast forward, the same spiral of things and thoughts would just happen. That is the spiral of negative thoughts and it could get worse because the brain will look for evidence to reinforce the negative thoughts. 

How our brain works

Why is this going on? 

Our brains are designed to keep us safe. Our brain wants yesterday to look like today.

It wants tomorrow to look like today and anything that feels off would be alarming. And one way that our brain loves to keep us safe is to replay negative thoughts in our heads. It's literally a protective mechanism.

And it's just trying to prepare her for what could happen. However, it is not actually helpful in this circumstance because instead of preparing her, it's making her more nervous and making her believe negative things about herself. And the other reason why she engages in negative thoughts is that she doesn't know any other way. 

Your Role In Her Mental Game

So how can we change that thought? 

If you've been listening to our podcasts for a while you know that your role in your daughter's mental game is two things:

  • You shape the environment
  • You provide the opportunities for her

You shape the environment by what you say, what you do. It could be your own personal development and what you're doing to work on your mental game. 

There are strategies you can do at the moment. And then there are strategies that you can implement out of the moment.

Now, if she's out on the court/field and she's spiraling, there's not much you can do. You will be stuck on the sideline and that's why she needs to have the skills herself because you can't just go there and pause the game.

The best thing that you can do is preload skills and be intentional with what you say and do. What are you modeling when it comes to your own mistakes? What do you believe about yourself? 

When you make a mistake, are you showing the proper way of handling it? Do you give grace to yourself and say that it’s okay? You can be intentional about what you do whenever you make a mistake. Your actions would set an example for her on how to handle her own mistakes. You are responsible for creating the right environment for her.

And if she is spiraling in the car ride home, just support her without trying to solve things for her. The more we just support without solving, the more we are enabling our daughters with the skills that they can use to regulate themselves. They’ll be able to learn how to deal with the frustration they’re feeling. 

When you step in and fix, you're not really teaching them a skill. If anything, you’re actually teaching her that she shouldn't be feeling that way. And when she struggles, she should expect someone to come along and try and make her feel better right away. You’re causing her to believe that she needs to get out of it quickly. 

It’s an unreasonable expectation and it’s just not true at all. Life is full of struggles and disappointments, so don’t invalidate the frustration that she feels, and let her learn how to deal with it.

You can use supporting words like, "you're really frustrated, I get it." and "It's okay to feel like that. It's okay to take a break". And ask if she wanted you to give her a fresh perspective, or just listen. 

Moms in ECP have a common language when this happens.

"Productive thoughts"

"Part of you that wants to be perfect"

"Brain trying to keep you safe"

You can easily detect these thoughts when you know them. And that’s the beauty of having a community that gets you. 

Now, the other piece of this is your daughter needs to have the opportunities to stop these negative thoughts. Your daughter needs strategies to stop negative thinking. And these are the things we provide in Confidence Boost Membership. 

This week we taught our students to “Stop, Breath, Replace”. So it means stopping when they recognize it, then doing something to break the cycle like breathing. And then replace the negative thought with something more productive. 

As much as you can shape the environment and help her in those moments, nothing will replace her, having the ability to shift and shape her thoughts on her own. Because she is the thinker, not you. 

She has to learn how to recognize her negative patterns. And know that this negative spiral happens because that’s how our brain tries to protect us. Our thoughts create our reality, so we have to be mindful of it. 

There are a lot of strategies we could do to stop negative thinking, and you as her mom have a role in it. You can support her and shape her environment by being a good example. And provide her the opportunities to learn and grow. 

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