Why did you put your child in sports?
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Do you want your child to come out of their youth sports experience a winner feeling good about themselves and having a healthy attitude towards sports?
Do your job correctly and your child will learn the sport faster, perform better, have fun and have his/her self-esteem enhanced as a result.
If you “drop the ball” your child will stop learning, experience performance difficulties and blocks, and begin to really hate the sport. In addition, your relationship with him/her will suffer significantly and they will come out of this experience with feelings of failure, inadequacy and low self-esteem.
Your son/daughter and their coach need you on the team. They can’t win without you!
Find the first 7 steps in helping your child to WIN AT SPORTS and in turn you will WIN AT PARENTING!
Remember, no one wins unless everyone wins.
STEP 1 – UNDERSTAND YOUR CHILD’S COMPETITION IS THEIR MOST VALUABLE TRAINING PARTNER
When defined the right way, competition in youth sports is both good and healthy and teaches children a variety of important life skills. Sports is about learning to deal with challenges and obstacles. Without a worthy opponent, without any challenges, sports is not so much fun. The more the challenge, the better the opportunity you have to go beyond your limits. Your child should never be taught to view his/her opponent as the “bad guy”, the enemy or someone to be hated and “destroyed”. Do not model this attitude! Instead, talk to/make friends with parents of your child’s opponent. Root for great performances, good plays, not just for the winner!
STEP TWO – ENCOURAGE YOUR CHILD TO COMPETE AGAINST HIM/HERSELF
The ultimate goal of the sport experience is to challenge oneself and continually improve. Unfortunately, judging improvement by winning and losing is both an unfair and inaccurate measure. Winning in sports is about doing the best you can do, separate from the outcome or the play of your opponent. Children should be encouraged to compete against their own potential. When your child has this focus and plays to better themselves instead of beating someone else, they will be more relaxed, have more fun and therefore perform better.
STEP THREE – DON’T DEFINE SUCCESS AND FAILURE IN TERMS OF WINNING AND LOSING
One of the main purposes of the youth sports experience is skill acquisition and mastery. When a child performs to their potential and loses, it is criminal to focus on the outcome and become critical. If a child plays their very best and loses, you need to help them feel like a winner! Similarly, when a child or team performs far below their potential but wins, this is not cause to feel like a winner. Help your child make this important separation between success and failure and winning and losing.
STEP FOUR – BE SUPPORTIVE, DON’T COACH!
Your role on the parent-coach-athlete team is as a Support player with a capital S! You need to be your child’s best fan. unconditionally! Leave the coaching and instruction to the coach. Provide encouragement, support, empathy, transportation, money, help with fund-raisers, etc., but… do not coach! The last thing your child needs and wants to hear from you after a disappointing performance or loss is what they did technically or strategically wrong. Keep your role as a parent on the team separate from that as coach.
STEP FIVE – HELP MAKE THE SPORT FUN FOR YOUR CHILD
The more fun an athlete is having, the more they will learn and the better they will perform. Fun must be present for peak performance to happen at every level of sports from youth to world class competitor! When a child stops having fun and begins to dread practice or competition, it’s time for you as a parent to become concerned! What is going on that’s preventing them from having fun? Is it the coaching? The pressure? Is it you?! Keep in mind that being in a highly competitive program does not mean that there is no room for fun. The child that continues to play long after the fun is going will soon become a drop out statistic.
STEP SIX – WHOSE GOAL IS IT? IT’S YOUR CHILD’S SPORT!
Number FIVE leads us to a very important question! Why is your child participating in the sport? Are they doing it because they want to, for THEM, or because of YOU? Are they playing because they don’t want to disappoint you, because they know how important the sport is to YOU? Are they playing for rewards and “bonuses” that YOU give out? Are their goals and aspirations YOURS or THEIRS? How invested are YOU in their success and failure? If they are competing to please you or for your vicarious glory, then they are in it for the wrong reasons! If they have their own reasons and own goals for participating, they will be far more motivated to excel and therefore far more successful.
STEP SEVEN – YOUR CHILD IS NOT THEIR PERFORMANCE – LOVE THEM UNCONDITIONALLY
Do not equate your child’s self-worth and lovability with their performance. The most tragic and damaging mistake parents make is continually punishing a child for a bad performance by withdrawing emotionally from them. A child loses a race, strikes out or misses and easy shot on goal and the parent responds with disgust, anger and withdrawal of love and approval. Doing this WILL ruin your relationship with your child.
STEP EIGHT – REMEMBER THE IMPORTANCE OF BUILDING SELF-ESTEEM IN ALL OF YOUR INTERACTIONS
When your child is in an athletic environment that boosts self-esteem, he/she will learn faster, enjoy themselves more and perform better under competitive pressure. One thing we all want as children and never stop wanting is to be loved and accepted, and to have our parents feel good about what we do. This is how self-esteem gets established. Being empathic and sensitive to his/her feelings is what’s called for. Self esteem makes the world go round. Make your child feel good about themselves and you’ve given them a gift that lasts a lifetime. Do not interact with your child in a way that assaults their self-esteem by degrading, embarrassing or humiliating them. If you continually put your child down or minimize their accomplishments not only will they learn to do this to themselves throughout their life, but they will also repeat your mistake with their children!
STEP NINE – TEACH YOUR CHILD THE GIFT OF FAILURE
If you really want your child to be as happy and as successful as possible in everything that they do, then teach them how to fail. The most successful people in and out of sports do two things differently than everyone else. First, they are more willing to take risks and therefore fail more frequently. Second, they use their failures in a positive way as a source of motivation and feedback to improve. Fear of failure or humiliation causes one to be tentative and non-active. You can’t learn to walk without falling ENOUGH times. Each time that you fall, your body gets valuable information on how to do it better. Teach your child how to view setbacks, mistakes and risk-taking positively and you’ll have given them the key to a lifetime of success. Failure is the perfect stepping stone to success.
STEP TEN – CHALLENGE, DON’T THREATEN
Many parents directly or indirectly use guilt and threats as a way to “motivate” their child to perform better. Performance studies clearly indicate that while threats may provide short term results, the long term costs in terms of mental health and performance are devastating. Using fear as a motivator is probably one of the worst dynamics you could set up with your child. Implicit in a threat, is your own anxiety that YOU do not believe the child is capable. Communicating this lack of belief, even indirectly is further devastating to the child’s performance. A challenge does not entail loss or negative consequences should the athlete fail. Further, implicit in a challenge is the empowering belief, “I think that you can do it”.
STEP ELEVEN – STRESS THE PROCESS, NOT THE OUTCOME
When athletes choke under pressure and perform far below their potential, a very common cause of this is a focus on the outcome of the performance (i.e., win/lose, instead of the process). An outcome focus will almost always distract and tighten up the athlete insuring a bad performance. Furthermore focusing on the outcome, which is completely out of the athlete’s control will raise their anxiety to a performance inhibiting level. So if you truly want your child to win, help get their focus away from how important the contest is and have them focus on the task at hand. Supportive parents de-emphasize winning and instead stress learning the skills and playing the game.
STEP TWELVE – AVOID COMPARISONS AND RESPECT DEVELOPMENTAL DIFFERENCES
Supportive parents do not use other athletes that their child competes against to compare and thus evaluate their child’s progress. Comparisons are useless, inaccurate and destructive. Each child matures differently and the process of comparison ignores significant distorting effects of developmental differences. For example, two 12 year old boys may only have their age in common! One may physically have the build and perform like a 16 year old while the other, a late developer, may have the physical size and attribute of a 9 year old. The only value of comparisons is in teaching. If one child demonstrates proper technique, that child can be used comparatively as a model only! For your child to do his/her very best, he/she needs to learn to stay within themselves. Worrying about how another athlete is doing interferes with them doing this.
STEP THIRTEEN – TEACH YOUR CHILD TO HAVE A PERSPECTIVE OF THEIR SPORT
The sports media in this country would like you to believe that sports and winning/losing is larger than life. The fact that it is just a game frequently gets lost in translation. This lack of perspective frequently trickles down to the youth sport level and young athletes often come away from competition with a distorted view of themselves and how they performed. Parents need to help their children develop realistic expectations about themselves, their abilities and how they played, without robbing the child of his dreams. Swimming a lifetime best time and coming in dead last is a cause for celebration, not depression. Similarly, losing the conference championships does not mean that the sun will not rise tomorrow.
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