What would you say to an athlete who had a bad day at the Olympics?

Although the media rightly focus on the good news stories from the Olympics, I’ll admit I’m fascinated with what coaches do when athletes don’t do as well as expected. While there are lots of ways to handle this, a useful starting point is understanding whether they see being an Olympic athlete as who they are or is just what they do.

If being an Olympian is who they are then a bad day can have a significant impact on their self-esteem and your role will be to take the time to support the process to rebuild any damage to their perceived value as a person.

If being an Olympian is what they do then you can focus on helping them understand and manage their emotions (disappointment, anger, embarrassment etc) and then, often quite quickly after the event, discuss why it wasn’t as good as it needed to be and what they need to improve. I think who they are coaching is VERY challenging (and can be ineffective if you use a what they do approach) and highlights the importance of establishing early in a coaching relationship if someone is who they are or what they do focused.

How? In my experience, asking questions and raising awareness of different ways of thinking is enough. Make them aware that society promotes the who they are agenda but also that you don’t have to think that way. Share the alternative view that you can still (and I would argue be more likely to…) maximise your potential by seeing yourself, for example, as a committed daughter, sister, mother, colleague who loves reading and science, is a bit shy and a hard worker who likes a laugh and what I do is focus those attributes on being as good at taekwondo as I can. When I’m done with that, I’ll focus those attributes on something else I want to achieve.

Not easy but important and as is often the case, doing this well starts with recognising your own thinking. So what about you – is what you do who you are?

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