5 Things NOT to Say to an Athlete

  • 3 January 2023

Have you ever found yourself in a situation where you simply don’t know the right thing to say to an athlete? Some common situations might be when an athlete experiences an injury that takes them out of their competitive season. Maybe your athlete didn’t perform as well as they wanted to, whether that’s in practice or in a competition/game. Sometimes it’s before a competition/game ever begins and your athlete is super nervous. Whatever the situation, here are a few things to NOT say to an athlete.

1.     “Don’t be nervous! You’re going to do great.” – While this statement is meant to encourage your athlete and instill belief & confidence in themselves, it’s really not the most helpful thing to say. First of all, telling someone not to be nervous is almost guaranteed to NOT get rid of their nerves. In fact, your athlete is most likely going to become even more focused on their nervousness, which will only make things worse.

2.     “Don’t worry about it. It’s not that big of a deal.” – Trying to downplay the importance of an event in order to ease disappointment is likely to make the athlete more upset. It is important to them and their feelings are valid. If they hear you tell them it’s not, they may feel like you don’t place as much value on what they are doing, which can make them feel as if they have a lack of support.

3.     “There’s always next season.” – This is similar to the one above, however it may be a little more intensified. You may want to say this after an athlete failed to qualify to an event which ended their season. It may also be said if an athlete has an injury that takes them out of their competition season. Not only is the athlete already upset, but they are now also focusing on the “loss” that is their season.

4.     “So why did you do (fill in the mistake here)?” – Pointing out an athlete’s mistake right after they finish competing is kind of like pouring salt in the wound. I can promise you they are already thinking about their mistake and running it over and over in their head. They don’t need the additional reminder!

5.     Any statements comparing your athlete to another – Just don’t do this! I’ve seen this happen for a multitude of reasons. Whether this is said out of pure emotion from the parent, or it is intentionally said for whatever reason seems to make sense at the time, it will be a blow to your athlete’s confidence. Not only will their confidence drop, they will begin to compare themselves as well (if they aren’t already) which takes the focus off of their actual training & slows their progress.

Most of the time, the “wrong” things are said with the best intentions. Try to think through how your statement will be received by the athlete, mentally & emotionally, before letting your own emotions (good or bad) have a negative impact.

Emily Williams, MA, Owner
Champion Mindset Consulting LLC