Basic 7

Invite Assertion

Encourage athletes to be assertive about expressing values, feelings, and needs.

"Asking the 'right' questions takes as much skill as giving the right answers."
-Robert Half

Ross, a terrific gymnast who is poised to be on the national team, is sitting on a bench looking very upset and nervous about his next routine on the pommel horse. He has been practicing his pommel horse for weeks and has worked extremely hard on a difficult dismount. He looks up at his mom, and says that he is really scared because he is afraid of missing the dismount. Ross’s mom knows that he is very capable of completing the routine and the dismount. Ross has done it dozens of times. His mom is about to say "Oh! You’ll be fine Ross! Stop worrying! You are great at this routine!", but stops herself.

Ross’s mom knows that it is important to acknowledge her sons feelings. Instead she says, "This part of your routine has really got you worried. You have been working really hard on this dismount and it makes sense that you are this worried about getting it right."

BodySense Connection:

As parents and coaches, we want athletes to be assertive. We want to create a place where they feel respected for expressing themselves. Being assertive means knowing how you feel, what you need, and what you believe. It is also about being able to speak up about those feelings, needs, and beliefs to people in your life.

If an athlete can tell us how they feel, what they need and what they believe, we can create an environment that takes care ofthem. We can take care of athletes by believing and helping them to have their needs met. If an athlete feels the need to hide, compromise, or control emotions, ignore needs, or keep thoughts and beliefs quiet, they are more at risk of developing disordered eating.

When athletes are able to express themselves and are respected for doing so, they are more likely to develop healthy problem solving skills and coping mechanisms. Emotions that go unexpressed can turn into negative coping mechanisms like using food and weight loss to feel better even though it may be physically harming. For example, if an athlete feels scared about an upcoming competition and is able to tell the coach, the athlete can then come up with healthy coping strategies.

In essence, assertion helps us to acknowledge our emotions and needs, and to make sure that these needs are met.

When an Athlete Asserts Themselves

Ross asserted himself. Not only did he say what he felt, he also indicated what he needed. His mother responded by using some of the following steps:

  • Acknowledge: Let the athlete know you have heard them by acknowledging and paraphrasing what they say. If an athlete says they are really nervous about a routine, you might reply: "So, you are feeling worried about what you have to do on the beam". Avoid interpreting expressions. Ask if there is anything else the athlete wants to talk about.
  • Confirm: Let the athlete know that it makes sense to feel this way.
  • Explore: Invite the athlete to discuss what could be done given what they are feeling. Let the athlete lead the discussion.
  • Accept: Feelings, needs, values, and beliefs that might be different than what you think, feel or believe. Suspend your judgment.
  • Options: Gently offer options for problem solving that might not have been suggested by the athlete.

What Coaches and Parents Can Do:

  • Hear what an athlete is not saying: An upset stomach may mean a number of things. Perhaps a fight with a teammate has upset the athlete, or they are tired. They may be in pain, be worried about a fight in their family, or be worried about a competition. Accept what information you are given as possible insight into other feelings.
  • Speak clearly about your own feeling and needs. Create an environment in which the expression of feelings, needs, and values are important.
  • Make an athlete responsible for themself. Follow-up when an athlete says that they want, need, or feel something. For example, if an athlete says, "I am hungry," in the middle of a training practice, allows the athlete to run to their gym bag and grab a quick snack and/or a drink of water or juice.
  • Suspend your own beliefs and affirm the athlete's feelings. It can be difficult to acknowledge an athlete's feelings and needs when we may have a different idea of their needs. Try to put your ideas aside while you are listening and problem solving.

Taking Action:

Allow emotions in the sport environment. Ask athletes how they are feeling at different times throughout training and competition.
Invite and acknowledge athletes' feelings by simply paraphrasing what an athlete says like Ross's mom did in the above scenario.
Include athletes in decisions, advocacy groups , planning committees, team event planning, fundraising, publicity and leadership.