Athletic excellence does not develop in a vacuum. Athletes, young and old, lead the charge toward reaching their development on the ice, but without supportive families, competent competitors, wise coaches and enthusiastic communities, full potential often is left unrealized. While skilled coaching and opportunities to train and compete are essential elements of the athlete development recipe, the emotion and mindset of athletic environments are truly what leads to thriving while striving.
Emotions are infectious. Negative, unhealthy emotions can spread like the flu, leaving a sporting environment sluggish and sick. Encouraging optimistic feelings can be inoculating, serving to allow athletes to thrive during the struggles and successes of a competitive sport. In this equation, it is perhaps the negative that takes root the easiest. The excitement of competitive training can very easily turn into insidious stress that challenges coaches’ and families’ self-control. A few bits of doom and gloom at the rink can serve as ready kindling for a culture that adds undue stress and strain on developing athletes.
Most people understand that positive trumps negative if high performance (and good living) is the goal. Yet, positive can be deceptively challenging to do.
Pop psychology tells a person to “think positive” and “be happy,” things that are incredibly challenging to embrace when significant financial, time, effort and emotional commitments are being made. Few in the skating environment are free from these strains, including coaches, parents, administrators and athletes.
“Doing positive” is actually quite subtle — yet powerful. It actually has little to do with the pep talks given, the motivational quotes shared, or enthusiastic cheer. It is about the nonverbal behaviors that occur when in the pressure cooker of competition. It is about the patience displayed while athletes struggle with mastering new skills and strategies. It is about the cooperative tones that fill the halls and locker rooms of rinks. Emotions that help athletes thrive are the ones that bubble below the surface of the words that are spoken and the fleeting moments of dramatic emotional expressions. The emotions that simmer are the ones that allow athletes to develop emotional responses that support resilience, perseverance and enthusiasm during all stages of a competitive journey.
There is most likely a shared goal between athletes, parents, coaches and athletic organizations — to see the athlete achieve one’s greatest potential and to develop a lifelong passion for sport. Athletes practice with this in mind. Parents are thrilled when their flesh and blood succeeds. Coaches feel both competence and pride when a student succeeds. Perspectives toward performance may differ, but goals are quite often similar. This reality so often gets lost during the hustle and bustle of athlete development. The appreciation and communication of these shared goals is too often neglected.
Human beings are inherently poor communicators. The human condition of life can lead to defensiveness, failure to appreciate the worldviews of others, and conversations that are laden with emotion before objective insight. These realities provide challenges to effective community collaboration. Competitive cultures that are caring and collaborative in their communication develop thriving athletes.
Quality communication begins with understanding — this starts by going slow and listening. It is reasonable to expect that all individuals that invest effort, time and passion into skating care; this is good. All individuals caring passionately … is bad. Passion leads to exciting communication, but rarely clear delivery and receipt of messages.
Take care to set the stage for quality communication helps skating communities thrive. This can begin by keeping the following in mind:
- Commit to having serious discussions away from the noise and excitement of the rink and at least three hours apart from the emotions of practice and competition times.
- Practice listening before speaking. This allows the speaker to feel heard and the listener to get the full story prior to contributing a thought or two.
- Appreciate and give the benefit of the doubt that everyone is striving toward a similar goal. This allows for collaborative rather than confrontational discussions.
Skating cultures that encourage and practice quality communication truly allow athletes to thrive. Getting many adults and young athletes onto the same page is rarely a perfect process. Creating a shared philosophy towards spreading facilitative emotion and collaborative communication leads to optimal growth and enthusiasm in athletes. Around the rink, there is a tight interconnectedness between administrators, coaches, families and athletes.The quality of these ties that bind creates a rising tide for all skaters.
Dr. Adam Naylor, EdD, CC-AASP, was a featured speaker at ISI’s annual Ice Arena Conference & Trade show in May. He leads Telos SPC, and is coach educator for USA Hockey. He directs Northeastern University’s Sports Performance: Mental Game division, is a clinical assistant professor of sport psychology at Boston University’s School of Education and is the associate director of Mental Training for the International Junior Golf Academy (Hilton Head, S.C.). He has two decades of applied sport psychology experience (Olympic, professional, collegiate and elite junior). He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and followed on Twitter @ahnaylor.