Being Your Own Psychology Experiment
Recently I listened to the Chris Shambrook episode of 'Girl on the River' podcast (all episodes worth a listen if you haven't found them already https://www.girlontheriver.com/podcast) Chris was the GB Rowing Team's psychologist for many years. One of the things that he talked about was seeing yourself and your responses to things as an experiment. Rather than being afraid of what might happen in a particular scenario (the Olympic final, for example) he suggested being curious about what you are capable of and how you will respond.
I have always thought of myself as quite good at the psych side of things in sport, I have no official training in psychology, but I find it endlessly interesting to consider how humans respond to what's going on. I was elated to hear that many of the things he was suggesting were things that I did as a coach with my athletes, or are things that I do now. Having worked with him a miniscule amount in my coaching days, I expect he'll be glad to know that his messages were rubbing off on us coaches and we were buying in and implementing his ideas.
Now my coaching days are over, I still like to ponder the psychology of life and often turn my gaze and curiosity onto myself. In December 2020, when things started to go really downhill and all our exciting plans for a little celebration at Christmas were thwarted, I kept my spirits up by eagerly anticipating my husband having time off work, lots of delicious and indulgent food like mince pies, cake, cheese; drinking exactly what I wanted – the odd sherry was taken before midday which I found mildly hilarious. We even dressed up in black tie on New Year's Eve and had a lavish dinner with champagne. All fabulous feel-good things that still made the festive period just that – festive.
Then January dawned, the virus was worsening with hospital admissions and death tolls spiralling out of control, the lockdown seemed to have no end in sight, I hadn't seen my Mum at all over Christmas, and to cap it all, I had decided to do Dry January.
Time to turn my curiosity on myself and see what results this huge 'social experiment' was going to throw up. The first thing that I actively embraced was the fact that whatever doesn't kill you, makes you stronger. Resilience, grit and toughness can only be developed by experiencing hardship, challenges and difficulties; so whatever I was personally facing, I would come out the other side a better person. And, lets face it, what was I really facing? Being shut in a beautiful house, with central heating, running water, a full fridge; ample technology to ease my boredom and enable me to interact with friends and family; and miles and miles of beautiful countryside right outside the door. One strategy which I actively employ and have done for many years is to avoid comparing myself with people who I perceive as 'luckier' than me or more successful than me, make the best of what you have got and count your blessings. Gratitude works.
What with Dry January, and trying to lose the Christmas bulge, and the lack of 'fun' to be had, I started to notice that I was taking great pleasure in things that in 'normal' times I would hardly notice. I DEVOUR the first coffee of the day, savouring every delicious mouthful. Running in all weathers feels like an absolute privilege having been hampered by injury for years. The blue-tits that throng to our bird feeders and mesmerise us with their acrobatics are heart warming. A good post on Instagram really lifts my spirits. The sunrises have been unbelievable. The spring flowers starting to come through almost warranted another black tie dinner by way of a celebration! My point is, that having LESS in my life has meant that everything means so much MORE. And when I have MORE back in my life I am determined that my levels of gratitude and my expressions of that gratitude will be bigger and better.
So I suppose my message to all you sporting parents out there, grappling with frustrated teenagers and all the challenges that throws at you, is to turn your gaze inwardly and marvel at how strong you are, how strong you have been, and how strong you will be going forward. Count your blessings, however dark the day is, there will be something to be grateful for. And then take a moment to really savour that thing and derive joy from it, however small and ordinary it may feel.
And when the schools and sports clubs do eventually re-open and sport resumes, encourage your young athlete to embrace it with every fibre of their being and see it as the greatest privilege. It will happen, they will compete again, and boy it's going to be one hell of a sporting party.
Sending you positive thoughts and a commitment to support any questions, queries, challenges that you face with your sporting youngsters in these difficult times. Throw them at me and I'll do my best to send you back a lifeline.