The Other Side of Facing Fear

This weekend, we went on a family camping trip to Inks Lake in Burnet, Texas.  At one end of Inks Lake is “The Devil’s Watering Hole,” a swimming area surrounded by cliffs.  Our six-year-old daughter Anna was excited about jumping off the cliff into the water…that is until she climbed to the top of the cliff and looked down.  At that point, excitement was replaced with fear.  For approximately 30 minutes, Anna sat at the edge of the cliff, changing her mind at least a dozen times about whether she would in fact take the plunge.  I sat quietly next to her, gently encouraging her but letting her know that the decision was hers, and either decision would be fine.  At the end of the half-hour, she quietly stood up, softly uttered “I’m doing this,” and jumped into the water.

Taking the Plunge

As I watched Anna go through this process of overcoming her fear and seeing the exhilaration on her face when I was reunited with her in the water, I knew that this moment was much more than a six-year-old deciding to jump into a lake.  She carried herself differently for the rest of the trip.  I believe she took an important step in her life about facing fears and the wonderful things that exist just on the other side of those fears.  That jump was also a teaching moment for parents and coaches, and a way to view youth athletics.

There are many experiences in a young athlete’s life that provoke anxiety and fear.  Stepping in the batter’s box for the first time, performing a gymnastics routine in front of a crowd, or stepping up to the free-throw line in a hushed gym with all eyes on you and the outcome of the game hanging in the balance.  The list goes on and on.  Regardless of the outcome, a child accepting that challenge is changed forever.  Their comfort zone expands and fear loses some of its power.  As the young athlete overcomes fear again and again, he or she begins to learn what great things exist on the other side!  There are home runs, great scores, and winning free throws.  But just as importantly, there is camaraderie with teammates, cheers of approval from parents and coaches, and perhaps most importantly the development of self-confidence that will carry that child to places s/he would never have otherwise ventured in life.

“BE” with your athletes

As coaches and parents, our job is to simply BE with our young athletes as they sit on that cliff.  We provide encouragement, we support them in their decision, and we let them know that whatever decision they make is fine.  But we also remind them of the importance of facing their fears head-on, and instilling in them the value of doing so regardless of the outcome.  The rewards come not just in the form of home runs and trophies, but in the satisfaction of knowing that they can look out over any cliff they encounter, and accept the challenge.