Having worked with many athletes over the years as a coach, and within the last 10 years being someone who studies Psychology in its many forms, one of the fundamental things that I have learned is the fact that athletes are people first. Sport is something that they do, not something of which they are. What a person does is not a definition of self.
I often find with my experience, I can see where an athlete is struggling. But in pure coaching terms there’s not a whole lot I can do about it without invading someone’s personal space. This can make the line between coaching and counselling a little blurry. Whether or not we are aware of it, we are all a product of the conditioning that our childhood has served up, and the effect that our surrounding society/culture/religion has had upon us. It stands to reason, then, that each individual has different issues which affect the way they live and perform in sport.
There are, however, certain patterns that a coach sees working with the vast array of people. Also there are some general common themes that affect us all, in some way or another.
Again and again I see athletes of all standards who suffer at the hands of “Self Judgment”. “The Judge” – that inner voice which monitors everything in your life and labels it as good or bad, right or wrong, fast or slow, worthy or unworthy. Often in psychology circles called “the super ego”, or your personality structure.
Athletes have great difficulty in separating their performances from functioning in their everyday lives. The outcome of an athletic endeavor is not an assessment of your worth or value. This means keeping the sense of your personal value separate from the evaluation of your functioning as a person. This “the judge” cannot do, because it believes your value is always conditional. Furthermore, it is not interested in the truth.
Unpicking the critical voice in your mind “the judge” is not an easy thing to do, but the first step is to realise that it is there. Once you are aware of that fact, “the judge” will start to be seen for what it is and will begin to lose the power it has over you.
A judgment is a statement of evaluation that implies an assessment of your value or worth and is felt as a rejection of your present state. What else can you get from “the judge” except more judgment? It’s easy to see then what sort of impact this could have on your ability to fully function as an athlete. I hear and see this over and over on a daily basis, but it’s the elephant in the room that nobody wants to talk about. It’s just too uncomfortable, it seems.
You might be amazed to take pen to paper and write down how many times a day you make a judgment of yourself; usually with the words “should” or “shouldn’t”. Every judgment that you make of yourself has a direct effect on your body. How many times have you given yourself a hard time over a bad race or poor training session? Can you not feel that impact directly in your body? If you pay attention to it, you can sense at times that “the judge” is like a critical parent: screaming at you to do more, to try harder, to be more than you are.
I have and do watch athletes before races obsessing over things that are totally and utterly out of their control, and I watch as they grip and try to adhere to an inner judgment that is rooted in total non- reality. When this is pointed out there is defense, denial, blame, anxiety and rampart nervousness.
The interesting thing about all of this is the fact that none of it is real. It is essentially a denial of the present moment and what it contains. In other words, it is rejection of self and a rejection of what is. “I just don’t have what it takes”. It doesn’t take a great deal of interpretation to work out what effect a rejection of self and a denial of the present moment has on a race or even a training performance.
In effect what we are trying to do is manipulate the outer world so that it matches the perfect view of our inner judgement. The big issue here is that our inner perfect view of what it should look like rarely/never matches reality, and the problem here is that it leads to a rejection of the direct experience that we are having (i.e.) in this case “my race”.
When we say no to the real view , when we want to throw it away, we are actually saying no to ourselves .” This is not how I want it to look. This shouldn’t be so. This sucks”. So the rejection of the situation automatically becomes a rejection of self and a rejection of one’s direct experience. What could be more insane than this, right? And yet through our conditioning, we all have this to one extent or another.
Certainly, in my opinion, the perfect view “the Judge” is the driver to the current epidemic of Anxiety and Depression in society. I am seeing and hearing it every day in athletes, and I can’t help but wonder what is possible for the fully self –aware athlete.
All this is wrapped up in fear. But that’s another whole story that I will cover in the coming months. So do yourself a favour, and stop allowing the judge to hold you captive.