You never know what each morning will bring! Although most of the time Zoe acts like the “big sister” she is, this morning was one of her regressions into “I want mommy!” (as she’s clinging to me and can’t possibly get any more plastered onto me), “Carry me!” (no, you’re a big girl and are perfectly capable of walking downstairs by yourself), “I’m too tired, waaaaaah, collapsing on the floor full out crying” (well, you’ll have to stay upstairs then and come down when you’re ready to be calm). After about an hour of whining, crying, snivelling and being carried back upstairs a few times by me she was downstairs as calm as could be happily eating her breakfast, and chatting like nothing had happened!
Meanwhile, I’m working hard at staying cool and calm myself as mornings like this put my goal of consistent parenting performance in the emotional control department to the test. As Zoe’s emotions fly out of control now and then as they naturally should at her age, it made me realize that I’ve actually honed my emotional management skills a little over the years too. As I’m always connecting dots between work, racing, and motherhood in many of these posts, I’ve realized that bringing out your best emotional toughness is great for racing, and your best emotional softness is best for parenting but they both take the same kind of work. Vicarious observation, personal experience, and parenting have taught me that…
1. If you feel the need to shed some tears let it go as fast as a terrible two forgets about a tantrum! I remember when Zoe first started the lovely tantrum stage sometime around two years old, I used to feel myself tense up and feel pretty stressed until she finally calmed down. It took some work, and still does not to just snap sometimes, but with some practice and strategies in place I’ve become a lot better and staying calm, physically, emotionally, and verbally. Just because she is spewing emotions, doesn’t mean I have to too! Sometimes I would find myself staying angry at her behavior after it was all finished. But just as she lets it go faster than you can blink, I’ve tried to practice doing the same.
2. Managing the emotional highs and lows of racing avoids burnout! In sport, the practice of letting go quickly is just as important. I learned this really well in my work with short track speed skating. They often race two distances in one day with 3-4 rounds per distance. If they spend too much emotion either being overly excited or disappointed after each race, they will end up twice as fatigued by the end of day, and then they have to do the same thing all over again the next day! There is a reason the best athletes in any sport don’t get overly excited after a victory and don’t get overly down after a sub-par performance. Top athletes often have to race back to back in one day, over a weekend or weekly depending on the sport. Good emotional management and perspective is key to pacing the season and avoiding sheer exhaustion by the end.
3. Sometimes it is wisest to save emotions for future spending! With all the above said, it doesn’t mean that emotions need to be suppressed or bottled up. But if we give them free rein at inappropriate times, things can backfire when it comes to performance. Think of yourself or an athlete with a lot of nervous energy in the week or two before an important competition. You can sit around twitching, worrying, and spending nervous energy over a performance that is out of your control because it is X days away, or you can use any passing twinges of pre-race anxiety to remind you to refocus on the present, and save those emotions for race day! Other examples are athletes who give in to emotions too soon and start to celebrate before the race is over, give up before the race is over, or spend unnecessary emotional energy getting angry at other competitors, race officials or competition circumstances before it is over (think John McEnroe in tennis). The ability to save the processing of strong emotions until its all said and done is also a piece of the pie in haivng your best competition.
4. When strong emotions come up we can CHOOSE our reaction! Finally, while it is okay and developmentally normal for children and babies, especially under the age of three, to let emotions rule their behavior, as adults hopefully most of us have realized and learned that we can be in the driver’s seat! As a parent, we can choose to stay calm and cool through tantrums and sibling squabbles. As athletes, we can choose the most productive responses to our own mistakes, competition conditions and circumstances, hard to get along with teammates or competitors, or bad calls. If it sometimes appears that a top athlete is acting like they “don’t care” under high stakes circumstances, it may well be that they are just well practiced, wise, and calculating in how they manage and fuel their emotions in order to perform their best!