- Begin with: "I hear that you're struggling with x, y, or z."
- Ask what they are thinking: "Can you tell me more about that...what are you thinking?"
- Ask about their feelings: "How are you feeling about it?" (teach them to identify their feelings - choosing from the primary emotions: Mad, Sad, Glad, or Afraid)"
- Find out what they're physically feeling (somatic sensations): "What's your body telling you?" (if they're angry, maybe their face is hot, if they're nervous maybe they're getting shaky, perhaps their heart is racing fast...these are important signs to pay attention to).
- Ask about their intention/wants/desires: "What do you want?" (there are layers to this...what do they want, what do they really want, what do they really, really want?)
[IMPORTANT NOTE: You can do this with your whole team in a big group. Have your team reflect on these questions, write their thoughts down, and then share with a partner. One person talks, the other person listens, and then switch. After they've talked with their partner, have them come back together as a big group. Have a discussion about the overarching themes that came up. What were some of the similarities and what were some of the differences?]
One of the most simple ways to hold space for your athletes - after listening to them, is to acknowledge their struggle. Instead of fixing, solving, or eliminating a problem - you can simply say, "I hear what you're going through. That must be hard for you."
Pause long enough for them to respond. Maybe it's not hard for them...maybe there's another word they'd rather use that better describes their experience.
When coaches get uncomfortable with the challenges your athletes are going through, there's a tendency to want to make things more comfortable for yourself. It's important to be patient and hold space while your athletes figure it out - as painful and hard as this may be.
Your athletes will each learn, grow, and expand on THEIR timeline...not yours. Patience is a premium.
They need you to acknowledge their experience - which is real for them right now - before you try to connect!
Connections are built through trust and vulnerability.
You don't have to agree with them...you can share what's going on for you and your perspective. Maybe you've experienced a similar challenge before. Maybe you're struggling with the same thing and don't know all the answers either.
To make this step more powerful, ask if they're open to hearing your perspective. "Are you open to hearing what I think?" Get permission from them to share your experience and help them see things from another angle.
Keep it light.
When you can bring your own authentic humor into a situation to lighten the mood, it can be a game changer. When challenges come up that you and your team have to handle, take a breath, remember the bigger picture, and be curious, playful, and flexible.
A 1994 study identified key traits of survivors (Siebert):
1) Curiosity—survivors keep asking questions, looking for new possibilities and wanting to learn from their situation. 2) Playfulness—survivors are willing to appreciate and find the humor in even the toughest of situations. This becomes a form of optimism over time. 3) Mental and emotional flexibility—survivors are both serious and playful, gentle and tough, unpredictable and consistent, proud and humble…not just one way.