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Happy Days?

After a long lay-off from competitive sport, the expectation is that everyone will be happy to back playing. Find out why that's not always the case what you can do to make things better.

I played my first game of cricket in too many years to mention recently. It was nothing special, village cricket at its finest. An idyllic ground nestling in the forest and the sun breaking through the clouds. What could go wrong?

My expectations for a start. Despite telling myself that this was just for fun I had another sense that there were standards to meet. My new team mates were friendly but let me know that the opposition were the reigning league champions. It was going to be a tough encounter and they wanted to start the season well.

What’s this got to do with helping young athletes with their mindset? Well it reminded me what it’s like when you return to competitive sport after a break. Just as many young sportsmen and women are doing as we come out of pandemic restrictions.

Isn’t it great, you’re playing again…..

Many expect the return to sport to be an enjoyable, liberating experience. There is an anticipation amongst players, coaches and supporters that it will be full of smiles and laughter. The reality is often different.

Many athletes feel under pressure to meet performance expectations. Either their own or what they think their coaches might want. Negative emotions rather than happy days are common as a result. Be that anger that they aren’t performing well enough, anxiety about what that might mean or embarrassment and guilt about the effect on others.

‘It’s only a game’

Common advice isn’t it. ‘Just go out and enjoy it’ is a similar catchphrase. The only problem is that it isn’t ‘only a game’ for many, and it’s not enjoyable when you don’t perform the way you want.

The response is often more frustration, more worry, more embarrassment. Effectively we’re telling the athlete that they should lower their expectations, maybe even their standards. The same expectations and standards that have helped them get to where they are and they need to achieve to meet their goals. So, what’s another way of looking at it?

Crossing the ‘should be better’ river

It can be helpful to view the gap between reality and your expectations as a broad, fast flowing river. Let’s call it the ‘should be better’ river. You want to be on the other side where you can see the standards you’ve set yourself. The side you on isn’t where you want to be.

The first step to crossing the river is to accept that it’s there and that you’re not on the side you want. This might take some time, especially if friends and team mates have already made it across.

Notice and acknowledge the anger, fear, embarrassment, or guilt you’re feeling. It’s telling you to do something different, so when you’re ready explore what that might be.

Then plot your way across the river. Take a good look around. Are you in the best place? Can they see anywhere to stop as you cross? Could you build a raft? Who could help? Asking metaphorical questions can help you find your way to bridge the gap.

Finally, commit to your plan and review it regularly.

For coaches helping young athletes, my experience is that they will have individual needs and meeting these through tough times will help improve the coach-athlete relationship. How best can you help them find their way across?

And, of course, if you think that The Mindset Hub can help you cross your river please get in touch at

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