Many coaches ask the same question and the truth is that there is no right or wrong way to deal with a nervous athlete of any age. For older populations their morbidity and mortality is playing a huge role in preventing them from absent-mindedly throwing themselves into a front tuck. So how do you deal with a frightened middle aged woman? I will list out what I PERSONALLY would do. This of course is my own thoughts and I am not discrediting anyone else’s ideas or claiming my way is the only logical way.
I find that the attitude of any athlete younger or older is based on the way the coach handles him or herself. In terms of cowardice, if the coach looks nervous or uses unsure phrases or even gets a nervous twitch at any time, it will be sensed by the athlete. This is just like when a baby senses when the parent is not ready to be a parent, or how a dog will match the emotions of an owner. If the owner is aggressive the dog will be as well. It stems from a deep biological habit of following the heard. Babies are not being directly told that the parent is unfit to be raising them but they gain knowledge of this through the actions of the parent. Coaching is the same way. Many higher level coaches understand this and even if they are a little nervous, they keep those feelings hidden away so the athlete has no reason to think that the coach has no faith. I do this by always throwing out phrases such as “ oh ya?, you want to learn stomach drop? Oh ye that is easy, let’s try it right now”. Obviously it is not easy and it takes steps for any new athlete. For a person who has rarely or never touched a trampoline it will be scary to get up and trust that they will land at the perfect angle on the bed to ensure a proper landing. I think a phrase that will increase the nervousness may sound something like this.” Well, make sure you progress slowly so you do not hurt yourself”. Obviously right there is a red flag to the athlete. “ why do I have to go slow, what happens if I don’t?” etc. These questions build up like Lego and eventually you have a leaning tower of Pisa of negativity, which unfortunately, more often than not will prove to be much less sturdier then the structure in Italy.
If this mistake is made it is very hard to come back since the tone is set within the first few weeks of training. Literally you have to regain the trust of the athlete ,which as we know in society, is much harder than losing trust. But let us assume that from the moment you start building rapport with the athlete you are very easy going and ensure that even the toughest skills are easy, without any negativity and are able to keep the athletes encouraged rather then nervous.
What else can be done to increase courage? Well for one, the athlete has to believe you know what you are talking about. It never hurts to show off a bit before, after or during the class. People will watch and spread the news of a great Trampolinist. Are you going to go to an electrician that you meet outside of a courthouse who just got sued? Probably not. Make sure your accomplishments are well out there so that people really know that you know what you are talking about. You do not need to be an arrogant prick, but making sure that from the start, the athletes know you know what you are talking about is huge. From a personal not, this got me into a lot of trouble directly and indirectly. I would hear a coach say something and in my head I'm thinking “ well, you have never even done that skill, so what do you know?”. Of course, majority of coaches, just expected me to believe them and figured I would bow to them because they felt important in their position. I was aiming so much higher in the trampoline world that they didn't realize I had already surpassed them. From the point I realized this, i made it very important to make sure each athlete knew who I was and why I was coaching them. If they chose to stay it implied there was a level of respect for my knowledge. The door was always there for those other athletes though. They could leave whenever they wanted.
Another thing I do is focus really hard on making sure I demonstrate a lot. This is BIG and unfortunately too many coaches just sit on their butts during coaching while they tell their athlete to work harder. * Shake Head*. Get up and show the athlete what you want them to do. Actions speak louder than words basically. DO NOT jump high when demonstrating. This will freak the athlete out because they are trying to copy what you are doing and if you do a back drop with 1.5 seconds of air time the athlete will get nervous. Go very low, and talk during the demonstration. It shows that it is easy and there is nothing to be worried about. If the coach looks like he or she is preparing or nervous or has to even think about it then you are taking steps backwards. Make it look as easy as possible. I do not take more then one bounce for backdrops and front drops and half airplanes etc.
Bouncing = Preparing
Preparing = Nervousness
The last step is the one we all know well; progressions. Do not have them do a front drop or back drop the first time they get on the trampoline unless they already can do it. In that case the athlete is most likely not scared and the above paragraph does not apply to you. Here is a list of progressions I would do with a “ worst case scenario” of a scared athlete.
• Jump up and down
• Jump side to side
• Jump forward and backward
• Jump to all four corners
• Tuck jumps
• Star jumps
• Sit on Butt and kip them slightly ( no more then an inch or two)- eventually work up to feet
• Seat drop onto matt- then no matt
• Back drop- start with lying on back and kipping slightly to seat drop then to feet
• Repeat with stomach drop to hands and knees to feet
I teach the skills that normally are questioned by other athletes or coaches. The reason I have them jump around in different areas is because it increases awareness of the trampoline and how it moves the body. Too many coaches just jump into seat drops and backdrops and most likely the athlete will land funny. This early in the game ANY rough landings will facilitate into “Hermit Crab-Itis” (ie. being a scary cat) . The athlete will get scared of doing it again and will not be easily risking another hard landing. The first impression matter! tons of studies have shown that humans can accurately guess overall personality traits within 5-7 seconds of meeting or watching a video of an individual. The studies compare the ideas of the 7 second group with previous testimonials of people who have known that individual for a long period of time. many more articles also demonstrate that a persons first experience to a new stimulus, ie. a new trick, is so much more important then many realize. That first few steps have to go well and the athlete has to build it slow. Once he or she understand the #stepbystep process then even if they fall down on a new skill a year later they will know internally that they skipped steps.
Here is the take home message:
If the athlete seems to have a lack of control on the trampoline they will be scared. If an athlete says he or she is scared of a trick, it simply means 1 thing. It means that the body has not accumulated enough positive outcomes through mental preparation. What does this mean? It means that if the athlete has more negative ideas about a skill with a low level or perceived control then they will have a mental block. All you have to do is make sure the athlete is taught in a way that they realize that every skill is step by step. If too many steps are missed then its like the athlete only has bits and pieces of the trampolinist/gymnast DNA. Once they run into a move that requires a piece of that missing DNA the body shuts down. The athlete feels scared and “Doesn’t know why” and then there is only one way to fix it. You then have to step back and rebuild those missing genomes in the DNA. Many think there are tricks and cheats but no there are not. By implying there are, disrespects the entire concept of acrobatics. If you can cheat at something and get the EXACT same result from someone who hasn’t then there is a flaw in the system.
I know that article may make scared athletes seem fragile and hard to handle but most athletes, no matter what age, quickly get into the rhythm of trampoline and gymnastics and the nerves pass quickly if the starting steps are fun and safe and understood. I have never had to do the above progression with anyone. I have done certain ones based on the particular fears of the athlete but never all in that order. The main key is your attitude. You have to have the athlete believe it is easy and that the chances of hurting themselves are very low. Be patient as well. Some people take five minutes to get over fears, others take 3 months and others never take the time to rebuild so they never get over the fears at all. If they are willing to come back, then go at their pace.
As long as they are trying and putting honest effort into it keep a smile on your face. If you find yourself getting irritated because of a cowardice athlete, stop and think about something you would be hesitant of doing. Like, having a stranger tell you to jump out of a plane with a flimsy sheet on your back. You have to understand that fear is a defensive mechanism to make sure the thing we do next does not end the “trip” so to speak. Our DNA wants us to live a long time and protects us. Think of learning a trick, like convincing an investor for a million bucks. That investor will not give the money unless you have all your calculations and your plans and goals clearly and easily outlined. If you do not take the time to convince the investor then they wont give you money. Think of your hindbrain- where “fear” comes from, like an investor. You need to convince it through careful progression and planning that you are worth the risk. I mean that can’t be hard to understand. How many of you would give a million bucks to your friend if he wrote a business plan on the back of a napkin?
Something to think about when training your athletes! Thanks, please share online if you like the article and feel you learned something.
Gregory V. Roe
Find us on FB: Greg Roe Trampoline