The Surprising (but Scientifically Backed) Technique to Help Your Athlete Succeed



Want a scientifically back tip to help your athlete succeed?

Teach them to be nice to themselves.

Yes, you read that correctly: be nice to themselves.

A Stanford scientist says that the best chance of growing from a challenge or difficult circumstance is actually being kind to ourselves.

Emma Seppala, author of The Happiness Track and science director of Stanford’s Center for Compassion and Altruism Research and Education, explains “happiness is the unexpected path to success, and she emphasizes the perils of self-criticism and the merits of self-compassion.”

She goes on further to explain that while some might think that being hard on oneself is the way to increase one’s output, the opposite is actually true: the kinder, more compassionate we are with ourselves the better chance one has succeeding the next time.

In other words: when we treat ourselves how we might treat a dear friend, with compassion, we increase the chance that we normalize making mistakes are encourage ourselves to try again.

So how do we teach this important trait? Seppala gives four tips and I have taken the liberty to adapt how a coach or a parent can teach their athlete to do these things:

  1. Replace negative self-talk.Instead of saying, “How could I have fallen on a full turn? I’m such an idiot!” you could say, “I didn’t square my hips and I rushed my turn. I lost my technique for a second and fell. It’s okay, I need to remember this next time.” Teach your athlete, in advance, how to replace negative self talk with encouraging self talk.
  2. Write a letter. Ask you gymnast to pretend to write a letter to their best friend or younger sibling who made the same mistake. Would they call that person a name? Would they be angry? Or would they be understanding and comforting?
  3. Come up with a self-compassion phrase. Ask your athletes come up with a self-compassion phrase. A four part phrase that 1) brings mindfulness to the situation, 2) reminds that imperfection is normal, 3) demonstrates concern or caring to what is happening and 4) sets the commitment to be compassionate. It may look something like this: “I am having a hard time right now. Sometimes people have a hard time, that’s normal. I am sorry I am struggling. I give myself a big hug and remind myself that I will get through this.”
  4. Make a daily gratitude list.Encourage your athlete to write down at least three things they are grateful for or that they accomplished that day. Some days they simply might be grateful that today is over or that they accomplished hanging in through the final event. And that is okay!

Being nice to yourself can make you a better gymnast—teach your athlete this and watch and see what happens. You might be pleasantly surprised.

And while you are at it, be nice to yourself too!  You are doing a better job than you think you are!