Late last spring, our competitive Poomsae team had a guest coach come in and work with us for the weekend. Poomsae is part of Taekwondo, where athletes perform a set pattern of movements (traditionally known as “forms”). Our guest coach, Barbara Brand, is one of the US Coaches who consistently places her athletes on the US National Team. She also is a competitor and has been on the US team for a number of years.
During one of the sessions, a number of the athletes were getting fairly frustrated. It was about four hours in to an eight-hour training day, and bodies were getting tired and brains were getting overloaded. Emotions were running high, because in a few short weeks we had a high-stakes competition, the US Nationals. Doing well at this event would allow team members to then move on the US Team Trials, where they would compete for a spot on the US National Team.
There is a tremendous amount of pressure on these athletes, especially the ones who tend to do very well, because it is expected they make it to Team Trials. This is a mathematical nightmare. Some of the athletes have close to a hundred competitors in their divisions. Out of that hundred, eight go to Team Trials. Of that eight, one makes it on the US Team. Our most veteran team member had been a competitor for only four years. Most had been on the team for one or two years. Furthermore, the most competitive divisions are for kids ages 12-14 and 15-17.
Coach Brand is fairly brilliant, and very in tune to those around her. Sensing what was going on, and without stopping training, she said to the team, “You don’t have the right to be frustrated yet. You’re too new at this.” This changed the atmosphere, and the athletes changed their attitudes. The session went better after that. Not perfectly, but better.
Athletes perform worse when they are fearful or frustrated. Our brains are really good at processing and really bad at multi-tasking. If we are processing frustration, then we are not putting mental energy where it is most needed, and our bodies will then under-perform.
I’ve been thinking about what Coach Brand said quite a bit lately. It applies to a lot of situations. “You don’t have the right to be frustrated yet.” It would do many of us a lot of good if we stepped back from certain situations and reminded ourselves that we don’t have the right to be frustrated yet.
New parents, trying to get their baby to stop crying.
Newly married couples, figuring out how to communicate.
Students, being introduced to new concepts.
Fathers, even those of us who have been doing it fifteen, twenty, or sixty years, keeping our anger and fears in check.
Two things: One, it’s not as easy as saying to oneself, “You don’t have the right to be frustrated yet.” Two, our lives are short compared to time itself.
We tend to get more frustrated with those people and situations that are most valuable to us. And, despite that and despite how brilliant we are, we’re still works in progress. We’re still new to life. Hopefully, we’re learning and growing.
This week, I’m going to remind myself of this. I’m not going to be passive or flippant, and I’m certainly going to place emphasis on who and what needs my time and attention. But, I’m going to give myself a bit of a break when I make mistakes, or when things don’t go as planned. I’m going to switch my mental model from letting my frustrations determine me, to remembering that at the age of forty-five, I am still learning and growing.