Tight Mind Monday, Coaches Edition: When To Say 'That’s Enough'

Tight Mind Monday, Coaches Edition: When To Say 'That’s Enough'

I recently worked with a client who was struggling with a nagging ankle injury. When I saw her ankle during the session, it was swollen like a balloon.

I said to her, “What happened? You have a meet this weekend!”

She informed me that she wasn’t making her floor assignment, and her coaches had her repeat routine after routine for two and a half hours until she made it — which she never did.

I thought to myself, “Was that worth it? Is this type of training really constructive on any level?”

This Tight Mind Monday will focus on when it’s time to cut your losses and say “enough” during a workout in which your athlete is struggling. I know that every situation is unique and differs between athletes personalities, levels, time during the season, and a coach’s style. But this article will help give coaches some general guidelines to consider in order to make our sport a positive experience even on those hard days.

First, remember that every moment in the gym is “coding” your athlete’s brain. Just like a computer, the brain embeds every situation into the neural pathways creating memories, feelings, and neural transmitter release. Do we want to be coding torture or love? Of course it’s good to push through a bad day — you’ve heard me say over and over that those are the days that make us stronger.

But there are also days where enough is enough. Sometimes we let go of the vision we had in our head of what this athlete needs to get done today and make a new choice. Maybe we back it down and do drills, go to another event and come back, or even say, “Hey, let’s call it a day and start fresh tomorrow.”

Here are some Tight Mind Tools to help you make the decision of when to say enough and move in a different direction during workout.

If your athlete makes the same mistake three times.

If your athlete makes the same mistake over and over again, don’t let them embed a bad habit by continuing do the skill with poor technique. There is a time to stop saying “you’re not trying, do it again,” and back them down by doing a drill that fixes the problem.

If your athlete is psychologically traumatized.

Is your athlete crying uncontrollably and hyperventilating? Is your athlete unable to gain emotional control even after coming back from the bathroom? If the answer to those questions is “yes,” you may need to take a break from the current situation. Help your athlete regain control by being reassuring, motivating, and creating a situation in which they have success — even if that means backing down.

If your athlete is in danger of reinforcing a bad habit, causing inflammation to a current injury, or injuring themselves.

It’s essential that our sport be safe. Most injuries happen when an athlete is tired, scared, or over-emotional. A wise coach sees when their athlete is in risk of injury, stops the current trajectory, and changes direction.

If you as a coach are overly frustrated or angry.

If your own emotions are out of control, it might be time to change the plan. If you find yourself saying non-constructive statements like, “You must not want it bad enough,” “I’m not going to coach you anymore,” “You’re not trying,” or “I’ve never coached someone as lazy as you,” you might want to move on for both of your sakes! Comments like that severely hurt the trust between coach and athlete and make both parties feel bad about themselves and our sport.

Remember to keep your athletes moving forward. There is nothing wrong on those horrible days with backing down and doing drills. We need to keep our sport safe and healthy. A great coach takes full responsibility when things aren’t going well, gets creative, and finds a healthy solution. A great coach gets out of their ego and puts the athlete first. A great coach knows when it’s time to say, “That’s enough for today.”


Alison Arnold, Ph.D. has been a peak performance consultant to USA Gymnastics since 1997. For more information on Doc Ali and her work, go to www.headgameswebcamp.com or www.headgamesworld.com.