It’s tough to watch your athletes struggle. Whether that be mentally, physically or even emotionally, it is part of their natural development as an athlete. Not everything comes easily which means sometimes a struggle is necessary. I like to look at struggles like challenges. We need to feel challenged in order to have fun and stay motivated, but you also need to overcome challenges to help you to feel accomplished and powerful. By overcoming challenges, we gain confidence hence the positive results.

So what do you do when you see an athlete struggling mentally or physically?

Here is a list of steps to help your athletes get through a tough time.

1. Give them space and let them try and figure it out first
2. Let them take a break and come back in a little while.
3. Sit down and talk about what it is that is bothering them.
4. Come up with multiple options that would provide a variety of different solutions or results.
5. Pick one option and try it.
6. If it doesn’t work, PANIC! Just kidding! Don’t panic. Try something else.

1. Give them space and let them try and figure it out first.

Trying to help someone right away is usually very ineffective. Unless safety becomes a factor it’s usually best to give them some time to figure it out first. Many people need time to think and process before anything else. For children, letting them try and fix it on their own first teaches them how to take initiative in their own training. By letting their minds go through the natural process of struggle, they are learning how to solve problems. This is not only a skill for sport but also a simple life skill that everyone needs. Give them time to do that before jumping in to help them out.

2. Let them take a break and come back in a little while.

If you see that they have tried to solve their problem and emotions start escalating because of the unsuccessfulness of their efforts, give them a break. Let them walk it off, cool down, do something else and come back later. The human mind sometimes just needs a little break to refresh in order to be able to think clearly again. The next step is where you start to help.

3. Sit down and talk about what is bothering them.

Sit down with them and ask them what they think the issue is. Also try and remember to ask them how they are feeling about it.


Sometimes talking about the feelings they are having due to failure helps to them to relax and feel like they can let it out. I like to sit beside my athletes instead of across from them because I find they feel more calm and not alone.

I like them to know that I am asking what they need, not telling them. In certain situations in competitive sport, as a coach, you do need to “tell” for safety and also for development in the sport. During emotional struggles due to failure, the athlete needs to be in charge.

4. Come up with multiple options that would provide a variety of different solutions or results.

What are your options? Go over some of the different options that the athlete may have in order to help them be successful. Perhaps one option is to take a break and come back tomorrow. Another one could be to make a specific or different correction to see if that one will help them accomplish their task. Perhaps the athlete needs to take a step back and practice the skill or drill that comes before this in order to help them understand the movements or actions of what they are supposed to be doing. Each sport will be different but there are always options.

5. Pick one option and try it.

Let the athlete pick one of the options and try it out. It may work, or it may not so be patient. Do not force anything on the athlete. Try not to let your opinions influence the athletes choice of options. Sometimes we may not agree with their choice but in that moment it may be the only option for that athlete. There is always a chance that they will change their mind later once they see the outcome of their choices. We have to make mistakes in order to learn so let them learn. The only time your opinion should be jumping in to their options is when safety becomes a factor. Safety always comes first.

6. If it doesn’t work. Don’t panic. Try something else.

Encourage your athletes not to panic and get emotionally upset because then it is difficult to do anything after that. Remind them to take a deep breath and come up with a new plan together. An open mind is always more clear than a clouded one. (A blue sky is always more clear than a grey one) You may not always fix your problem right at that moment. Sometimes it takes time. Be patient and believe in your plan.

Some things to stay conscious of…

As a coach I am getting upset too:
Sometimes very passionate coaches get emotionally taken back as well from the failure of their athletes. That’s okay, but try and keep your emotions to yourself. Your problem is not your athletes problem and visevera. Something is bound to work. It may take longer than you would like but success will come if you are persistent at making it happen.

Don’t lie to your athletes.

I never like to lie to my athletes. I don’t like to tell them that it is going to get easier when it’s not always the case.

Sometimes it doesn’t get easier but after all the hard work to attain the goal it becomes worth it. Sometimes I have to tell my athletes things that they don’t like to hear but I always assure them that I am being honest to help them in their future development. I could lie to them and tell them “don’t worry it is going to be fine”, but if no actions were taken by that athlete to make it “fine” then they would eventually be upset again. I like to make sure they understand that I am telling the truth in order to help them.

Follow these 6 steps to help your athletes get through a tough time. If you have noticed, most of the steps are done on their own. The athlete comes up with the options and they do the work to accomplish the goals. You are there to guide and encourage them to continue to pursue their dreams. There is nothing more rewarding as a coach to see happy faces just like these ones from your hard working athletes. It is a sign of success.

If your athletes continue to have trouble controlling their emotions because they just don’t know how to handle failure, check out my article on how to overcome failure.

“You are your own most powerful motivator and critic. Which will you be?”

-Coach Brittany-