Approaching coaches to start a conversation can sometimes be an intimidating endeavor, especially when it comes to topics like eating disorders, mental health, or struggles in our personal life. It is vital to establish good communication with coaches we trust so they can support and assist us to the best of their abilities. This piece features the powerful insight of Ashley Zapata, PsyD, a sport psychologist and mental performance consultant, and Katie Spada, RDN, a registered dietician and former athlete. Check out the advice from these two VIS Experts™ for approaching coaches and igniting challenging conversations.
Why should we tell our coaches about challenges off the court?
According to Dr. Zapata, open lines of communication are vital not only to our performance on the playing field but also to our development as a person. In order to ensure that we are reaching our potential as athletes and people, it is imperative that coaches are aware of struggles that arise so they can support us.
“The athlete and the coach need to co-create a space that is emotionally safe to be able to be comfortable being vulnerable with one another,” Dr. Zapata says.
At what point should we approach our coach?
It is essential to approach a coach or a member of the coaching staff as soon as we notice an obstacle arise, whether it’s food making us anxious, excessive stress, or struggles with mental health. Spada recommends going to a team dietician or sport psychologist if you don’t feel comfortable talking to a coach initially and emphasizes that you don’t have to think your issue is “bad enough” to seek support.“ Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself even if you’re unsure of what you’re experiencing,” Spada says. “Everything you feel and experience is worthy of reaching out for support.”
“Don’t be afraid to advocate for yourself even if you’re unsure of what you’re experiencing. Everything you feel and experience is worthy of reaching out for support.”
What are your tips for starting a daunting conversation with a coach?
When starting a conversation with a coach or staff member, remember that you are the expert on your life and that your emotions and struggles are valid. “Name or process out loud what you’re experiencing,” Dr. Zapata says. “It’s okay to start the conversation by saying, ‘Coach, I’m really nervous to share this with you but because of the trust I have in you, I think this is a good place to start.’ It’s important to be honest and transparent in that human experience.”
Dr. Zapata recommends focusing on setting goals with your coach and being honest about how they can best support you. She reminds us to give ourselves grace and remember that it takes strength to ask for help.
Should a coach dismiss our concerns, what should we do?
If a coach dismisses your struggles and emotions, Spada recommends seeking assistance from support staff, such as a team dietician, assistant coach or sports psychologist, or an outside therapist. She also recommends taking the topic to an athletic director or an administrator in the school’s athletic office.
“As support staff, we are there to advocate for you and to support you,” Spada says. “We want to help you maximize your potential on and off the court.”