Karen Laing, is currently manning the engine room at good ship #3030Essex, ably assisted by the brilliant team at Active Essex Foundation HQ. Karen’s latest guest post is all about over coming self sabotage and working through the negative messages you tell yourself about our sporting abilities or fitness capabilities.
Labelled as ‘non sporty’ as a child, Karen now has a love of exercise, the outdoors and tennis.
Karen co-directs, the Epping based fitness business Fit School, with her husband Chris, where she also teaches Pilates. Fit School aims to teach participants and clients to be their own fitness instructors.
How I Overcame my Sporting Self-Sabotage, by Karen Laing
- I can’t run.
- I’m not sporty.
- I can’t hit a ball.
- I can’t throw.
- I can’t catch.
- I’m slow.
- I just don’t fit into that world.
- I’m rubbish, no-one will want to play with me.
These are the messages that I told myself for years about sport.
Whilst most people look at me now, and assume I’m sporty, I’m still not comfortable with that description of myself.
Even last week someone referred to me as super fit. Whilst I’m fitter than the average 41-year-old, I’d still class myself as an active person, fit compared to the average sedentary person but what I’d describe as ‘achievably active’ – and yes – I’ve just made up a word!
At school I couldn’t run. I was always struggling in a ditch on cross country days whilst my friends seemed to effortlessly finish in the top 3.
I was never in a squad or part of a school team (unless you count B team netball at primary school as a team).
I did dance and I loved it. This was undoubtedly what kept me active and fit. The fact I had a ‘thing’ I could do, which I enjoyed.
But as far as sport was concerned, at school it was always measured on attainment. Looking back, my effort, enjoyment and progress were never measured and with the exception of a B for effort in my final report, my grades for PE was always average in a sea of otherwise outstanding.
Don’t get me wrong, I had other stuff I could do. I was musical and capable. I enjoyed school and had lots of fabulous opportunities but in spite of all the great stuff I learned from and achieved in school, I developed lots of fixed, negative messages when it came to me and anything competitive or involving a ball.
So what changed?
I learned to run at 25
The first thing was running.
A lovely team member I worked with when I was a management consultant for PwC Consulting thought it would be a great team exercise to go for a weekly run. He loved running, he still does. The first few runs were hard but we did it together. We started with a small loop of Regents Park. He helped us through breathing patterns and pace. It was fun. The sense of achieving something and doing something I had always struggled with gave me confidence and self belief. So hats off to Mike Hall and thumbs up to that workplace initiative.
I learned to play golf
Then, whilst living in Scotland, on a different project, there were lots of beautiful golf courses. After an away day to Turnberry, when I couldn’t take advantage of the course because I couldn’t play I thought I’d get some lessons.
I enjoyed learning to play golf but quickly became aware it took me a long time to learn. I didn’t just pick things up.
This slow progress, coupled with the lack of self belief was added to by the stuffy nature of golf clubs and courses. You needed the right socks, the right attire and there were even rules about where you could put on your shoes. Nothing screams, ‘welcome’ about a golf course other than the fairways.
I married an encouraging, sporty bloke
The third, and most important transition has been my lovely husband Chris. Now, there’s someone who is ‘sporty’! King of Badminton in the North, sprinter, strong man and weird owner of that gene that loves to feel lactic acid burn. He’s also a great encourager and coach. And throughout our now 15 years together he has gradually picked away at my negative talk, stayed quiet whilst I ranted on golf courses and cheered when my more recently acquired tennis skills made him lose a point.
Above all though, he’s taught me that whilst I may be slow to learn, I am always making progress. He’s the first to suggest I get extra coaching or to push me out of the door to do some exercise when I’m a little tense – it works better for all of us that way!
Now when I have a lesson, I’m confident to say, “I didn’t understand what you said, can you explain it another way please?”
As a grown up, I love that when I play sport it’s social. It’s fun.
My bike rides are mindful.
My running makes me feel invincible or can settle an anxious day.
Walking enables me to process and ponder or come up with amazing ideas.
When I lift weights it makes me feel a bit like Wonder Woman.
Teaching Pilates enables me to nurture community and share in a mutual enjoyment of movement and self care.
And when others around me catch the active bug, now there’s my reward.
As a mother, I love that my children are beginning to enjoy sport. For them, being active is a treat and it’s most fun when we can all enjoy it together. My only hope for their sporting education is that they have the opportunity to compete with other children playing sport at their level, to nurture an enjoyment of competition, whatever their skill level.
So for all the self sabotaging messages I sent to myself, I am now a runner and recently a member of my local tennis club – where it turns out, people do actually want to play with me!
I think the best thing anyone can do if they are carrying around negative messages about their abilities is to write them down, work through what is true, what is false and what they need to help move forwards. Don’t miss out on all the fun because of a lie you’ve been telling yourself for years.
I’m not super fit, I don’t believe I possess any natural athletic talent, but my body is fit for purpose and I am still learning.
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