Frustration is something that every athlete battles with in their career. Frustration manifests itself differently with each athlete. For simplicity, I will define two of these types of manifestations (my perspective), which may occur either separately or together, and where, in my opinion, the combination of the two is most common.
The first is an outward manifestation, a mental to physical transference of frustration, where the athlete lashes out at things or others around him.
The second is an inward manifestation, a conscious to subconscious (or vise-versa) transference of frustration, where the athlete battles with feelings of doubt, incompetence, inability, etc., to the detriment of their physical ability to perform and execute on an optimal level.
I have battled with both of these and, more often than not, they occurred in tandem.
When I was younger, I was extremely ambitious, wanted to rise to the top as quickly as possible, and pushed myself to extreme lengths to win at all costs. I was fortunate to have a natural affinity for the sport and I progressed very quickly. I started at age 14 where most start the sport at 8-10 years of age. This, however, was not necessarily an advantage. Having this affinity came with a sort of “entitled” sense of superiority. Combined with the amount of work that I was pouring into training and being a teen in his first year of high school, this made losing maddening.
I would throw masks, get into arguments with coaches, and argue with opponents.
If I had spent that time productively, instead of wasting it on not being able to manage my frustration, who knows what more I could have accomplished. Unfortunately, we are only human, and everyone deals with their problems in their own way. I would consider this post a success if even 1% of all readers tried to consciously work on dealing with their frustration in a more positive and productive manner.
As I got a bit older and learned from my mistakes, and sometimes the hard way, my frustration became less outwardly physical and manifested itself psychologically. At the time (and now), because I was working so hard at trying to get better, I would get frustrated when I would lose. Instead of throwing things around, I would immediately start to break down every component of my training regimen and try to determine what I was doing wrong. While this may seem like a more productive approach, it can be potentially devastating.
I will begin to explain the reason why this is, but first I will tell you my inspiration for this post.
After recently getting frustrated with myself during a lesson at Lilov FA, my coach Pavel Kutelvas asked me why I was getting so mad. I told him that I should not be missing touches during a lesson, that I was working way too hard to be making mistakes in a simple one-on-one. I explained that if I can not touch properly in a lesson, then how am I supposed to execute in a real bout? Especially overseas, one touch lost could mean the entire match!
He told me (repeatedly, but this last time it finally decided to stick) a few SIMPLE things that have seriously changed my perspective on hard work and subsequent results.
1) If a lesson were easy, if you were to score every touch perfectly, then you would never progress as a fencer. The reason for taking a lesson would be only to maintain, and not to transcend.
2) You are human (Part I): Even the best fencers make mistakes during lessons and lose bouts at competitions.
3) You are human (Part II): We all have good and bad days. Sometimes we simply can not outwardly and physically produce when we can not control what is happening within us internally, biologically, chemically.
My immediate thought when hearing all of this was that it was utter NONSENSE. I obviously am well aware of the law of diminishing returns, especially when considering physical input and output, but was always, and still am, a huge believer in the idea that hard work will always result in success.
However, realizing that my behavior during lessons probably seemed a little childish at times, I tried to consciously think about all of Pavel Kutelvas' comments when practicing.
And what a DIFFERNCE IT MADE.
Think about it as “comfort food” for your brain.
It is a complete waste of time trying to fight LIFE ITSELF and attempting to bend intangibles with sheer will. Pavel is completely right: Sometimes things just don’t work out the way you want them to.
I began to think about fencing and my training schedule, not as some sort of isolated part of my life, but as an ACTUAL part/component of my life. And when you think about life, things do not always work out the way that you want them to! Therefore, the same applies for fencing!
This might seem completely stupid, but it was a very difficult thing for me to grasp. And I am still wrestling with it. But I can definitely work on it. I have already unloaded a tremendous amount of anxiety and pressure by thinking in this way. It is as if someone has finally decided to climb off of my chest.
Therefore, if you are someone that transforms frustration into a physical thing, just stop. It can ruin your career, your relationships, and is generally very unhealthy.
If you are someone that psychologically suffers from pressures resulting from frustration, please take my advice: work hard and always try to better yourself, but try and keep in mind that many things that you think you are in control of, are ultimately never in your….control.
Think back to my post about consistency. The more you try to make things consistent and steady in your life, you reduce the risk of performing inconsistently. But it does not mean that you will ALWAYS perform consistently.
So: Do not try and overanalyze the reasons for why things aren’t the way you want them to be. Try to divide mistakes into two categories.
1) Mistakes that can be fixed, you make an adjustment, and they start working.
2) Mistakes that can be fixed, you make an adjustment, and they should be working but are not for some reason
Though very broad and even cryptic, I strongly believe the second category to be related to factors beyond our control. Without getting frustrated, and gradually, try to push category 2 problems in category 1, and over time, you can be sure that you are training in a mentally healthy, and physically productive manner.
Cherish and submerge yourself in every training, lesson, and situation, and live in THAT moment. Work as hard as you possibly can in THAT moment. You can always doubt if you are working hard enough. That’s OK because we are human. We are naturally competitive in that way.
But we all know ourselves better than anyone else.
If you are working as hard as you possibly can, you should never have a reason to doubt your ability to succeed. Just don’t let frustration limit your potential.
Push on, my friends!
P.S. If you would like to donate to my goal of making the 2020 Olympic team, you can do so by clicking the link below. Thank you so much for your help and support!