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How to Create Healthy Boundaries in Performance Sport

boundaries Apr 27, 2023


Why is it so hard to set healthy boundaries?

The answer is unique to each of us.

One thing is for sure though, unshaped personal boundaries are a massive problem within performance support staff.

"I was working 6.7 days a week across a 12-month period, I wasn't seeing my kids or my wife and I hit this brick wall that made me realise, you know what this isn't right."

Setting boundaries is one of the stand-out key skills support staff need help with.

The most challenging part of boundaries, in my experience, is to move out of disempowerment into fully owning that it's on you to change you and your perceptions and experiences - no one else's. 

In this article you’re going to learn:

  1. 3 reasons why you don’t say no
  2. How to clearly define your boundaries
  3. 3-step process to saying a positive no to defend your boundaries
  4. Coach case study: Real example to help you integrate this in your own life


3 Reasons Why You Don’t Say No

We feel we need to say yes to more responsibility, more athletes to train, more data to analyse, more meetings to contribute to… whatever it is that makes us feel like we are a successful member of the performance support team.

But sacrificing health and family for work is not an expression of loyalty. It's a sign of poor priorities.

Dedication is not what you give up for your job. It's what you give to your job.

Many performance staff struggle to have hard conversations, both professionally and within their personal relationships.

The fear is that if it goes wrong then there could be high consequences of saying what they think, such as losing their job - particularly if your employer is providing a visa that allows you to stay in the country.

This leads to 3 classic behaviours:

1) Avoid

  • Mainly due to people not being comfortable with conflict.
  • Assume the worst-case scenario.
  • Associate NO with being solely negative.
  • We don't exercise our power.
  • Low self-worth (DECISION MAKER)
  • We don't look after the relationship.
  • Pretend the issue doesn't exist.


2) Accommodate - or in other words we people please:

"I am a terrible people pleaser. I'm not an aggressive person and I shrink back from conflict which has led to me being bullied at times. I felt that environment wasn't one in which I could voice my concerns to people. That's been an issue I've carried for probably my whole life one way or another. At school I was horrifically scared of ever being in trouble, I don't ever want to be late for something because it's all about people pleasing."


3) We attack when overwhelm hits:

"I've become aggressive, confrontational, desperately unhappy, I wasn't receiving any benefit or gain from anything I was doing, I'm obsessed with work to the point where it took over and affected everyone around me, I don't like the person I've become, my wellness and wellbeing is in the gutter, I'm not doing the right things for myself and I'm a bit of a mess."


The cost of this includes:

  • Feeling exhausted
  • Too tired to take care of themselves
  • Mentally fatigued
  • Struggle with motivation
  • Feel lost in what to do or how to change


How to Define Your Boundaries

One of the reasons performance staff have unshaped personal boundaries is that they lack clarity in what they truly want.

A boundary is an invisible line you draw around yourself to identify what is acceptable and what is unacceptable.

It doesn’t have to be fixed—in fact, they are often fluid and ever-changing, depending on your goals, relationships and mental states.

What situations do you say no in?

  • Technical coaches when they ask for data at night
  • Peers that are over-delegating work to you
  • Athletes who are disempowered and crossing boundaries
  • To yourself
  • To your partner
  • To your children
  • To your friends

...this fluctuates each and every day... Principles stay the same. Your beliefs (values, needs & purpose) and roles define your principles.

Using the common need for work/life harmony the goals could look like:

  1. Quality Time with family
  2. Be Present
  3. More Energy

Therefore your boundaries would need to include:

  • Clear working hours
  • Priority of self-care
  • 2 clear days off a week
  • Delegate more effectively


If your goal is career progress then your goals could look like:

  1. Quality of Work
  2. Grow Network
  3. Effective Decisions

So your boundary focus could include:

  • Protect your schedule
  • Reduce social engagements
  • Effective delegation
  • Prioritise self-care


Important questions to ask are:

  • Will these boundaries be sustainable without sacrificing the quality of your daily engagement with your family
  • Will they allow you to maintain your self-care/well-being practices to keep up your health 


These are very common boundary focus that I hear about in my work. But make this specific to you, let me know in the comments below what your boundaries are aimed at right now.


3-Step Process to Saying a Positive No to Defend Your Boundaries

The truth is NO is the keyword of focus, strategy, discipline, and boundary protection. Saying no allows you to get to what's truly important to you.

In order to get to the right YES, the right agreement, the right decision... you have to get to say NO a lot.

Learning to say a POSITIVE NO helps deepen relationships by clarifying & setting boundaries.

But without a clear process, it can feel uncomfortable, and at worst can cause more damage than good.


Step 1 - Express your YES

  • Your yes: What you want or the value that you are protecting
  • Use "I" Statements, not "you" statements
  • Keep it simple

The DEEPER your yes, the STRONGER your no.

When you're about to say no, ask yourself what are you saying YES to.

NO is positive because it means you're saying yes to something more important that is deep inside yourself.


Step 2 - Assert your NO

  • Don't reject, respect.
  • Set a clear, matter-of-fact limit.
  • Clean line, not jagged or wavy, not ambiguous

Stand on your feet, not on their toes.

Step 3 - Propose a YES

  • A clear, constructive proposal.
  • That protects your interests.
  • And aims for a positive outcome.

As you close one door, open another.


Coach Case Study

The head coach wants you to work through the weekend at last-minute notice, but you have family commitments and one of your key values is to keep weekends (or 2 whole days out of 7) free from work to maintain a positive work/life balance suited to you: 

  • Step 1 Your Yes - I have an important family commitment this weekend
  • Step 2 Your No - So I can't work this weekend
  • Step 3 Deeper Yes - And I would like to see how we can work this out (delegate, change date... e.t.c...) A coordinated solution that allows a positive outcome.

This takes practice, which requires you to not be perfect at it to begin with. And that’s ok, just remember getting to what you want requires you to make different choices to what you’re currently making.


This is why my focus is looking at the man behind the role because it's these hidden limitations that govern the thoughts, feelings, and actions, which so often make it challenging to maintain harmony in life.

The work I do at men behind sport addresses very practical steps to allow male performance staff to understand themselves on a deeper level.

These practices help you accelerate your process of understanding yourself through inner work.

If you are interested in working with me you can learn more about The Lost to Liberated Blueprint and book a call here.

In Kindness,


Download Workbook now!

Discover where you currently are in the 7-step process of change, the problems that keep you trapped in frustration, the path of moving from "I can't" to "I am", and the powerful guided reflection to support you in taking the next steps in your life.