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Mental Training to get past shame in sports
- Updated: May 24, 2013
A while back I wrote a post on shame. It is one of the areas that we rarely address in sports. It got a lot of hits back when I originally posted it. It was uploaded to a site in the UK this month for a new audience and again it’s garnered a good deal of attention. I thought perhaps I would talk about a few exercises people can use to get over issues were they feel shame. For some it is a feeling of failure associated with letting team or family down by not performing to their own or others expectations. In many ways it is associated with fear of failure. In other ways it goes perhaps deeper. Shame affects confidence, motivation and so much more. From an emotional intelligence point of view, along with guilt, it is certainly one of our more useless emotions. Please keep in mind, as usual; I am not talking about people who have really deep seated issues, as I only work with healthy people. There are times when we all have trouble dealing with something however, and these exercises can help.
Using CBT, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy type exercises can help athletes reduce this feeling and perform at higher levels. Some are very simple. Some will take a bit of work. Some come from what are known as Shame Attacking exercises.
My new favorite one however comes from Clown School. Don’t discount this technique because of its unusual origins. I picked this one up from a friend, Leif Hansen, who runs a company called Spark Interactions [ SPARK ]. A lot of what Leif helps people do is re-learn how to play through interactive activities. A good deal of which is Improv. I’ve attended 4 of his clinics, always interested in new growth activities for myself and those I work with. It was Leif who talked about Clown School. I love this one as in part it helps people deal with failure in a way completely removing shame. Clown Redemption (my name not his).
In clown school when a clown makes a mistake in a routine instead of apologizing or telling everyone they are sorry for their mistake clowns are taught to do something very different. After making an error, instead of saying sorry, the clown takes an exaggerated bow and says in a loud voice, Thank You Very Much with a smile. Taking credit for their mistake and rejoicing in the opportunity to learn something from their mistake. Athletes drive me crazy with the two-word apology I hear so often, “MY BAD”. What the athlete is stating is I made a mistake; I do take responsibility for it. But it is also an acknowledgement that there was something bad in their behavior. This can reinforce feelings of shame, rather than the idea that failure leads to learning and ultimate growth / success. I think if more people would bow and say thank you very much, they would overcome so many inhibitions.
Shame attacking Type Exercises:
The idea here is to do some things which make you very uncomfortable in public some can be done in private too. By choosing small steps in behavior change people come to understand that the consequences they were so afraid of, only exist in their own minds. Understanding this on a real level allows a person to be more comfortable in their own skin. Trying new things that allows them to realize that their shame or embarrassment is not real. So here are a few non sport exercises to help you understand their impact. You can try them yourself as of course there are no consequences
The basics are to do something that makes you feel foolish and uncomfortable.
- Start dancing as you walk through a store
- Start laughing while waiting in a line
- Sing while you are waiting in a line
- Tell a random stranger that is in line by you that you didn’t take a shower today.
- Ask a random girl/guy passing by if they would want to do something later
- When you are in a store start running frantically while looking behind you as if something were chasing you.
- Make funny faces to people who are stopped beside you in traffic
In sports it could be something as simple as these.
- Something as ridiculous as trying to kick a soccer ball and falling down on purpose
- During practice make odd faces
- Ask a really stupid question of a team-mate or coach
- Make a funny noise while catching a ball
- Smile during practice – assuming you are one who believes you must wear a game face
Now these are just a few simple things and I’d love some comments back on Shame Attacking ideas in sports. I’ve got some others I’m holding back because I want some creative ideas not variations. You might notice that all of the things I’ve listed are common behaviors at most every practice, but not for everyone. If you were to say to yourself I would never do that, maybe you should.
So if we enter my world of sport and we observe athletes held up by their anxiety and as we lift the veil and help them cope with their sports anxieties and still something is missing, we may need to understand their greatest fear. I often ask the question, “What is your greatest fear?” Maybe it is the wrong question. What is it that makes you feel shame? Can you talk about it? We tell people not to put their self-worth in a sport outcome or result. What if they do that because somewhere along the way, instead of finding joy in sports, they found shame?
If this post fails to help you understand how to help yourself or someone else then I failed to explain it well. All I can say to that then is:
Thank You Very Much (with a bow of course)