Its universal, young athletes seek approval from their parents, and parents, for the most part, have their children’s best interests in mind.
However, against the current climate where early specialization is the norm and Direct School Admission (DSA) often the main motivation, it’s easy for parents, coaches and young athletes to get overwhelmed by the competitiveness of youth sport.
Over the years as a PE teacher and later as a Sport & Psychology coach, I’ve observed how expectations placed on athletes by their parents have not only undermined their enjoyment but their confidence as well. As a result, many aspiring athletes suffer from performance anxiety, burnout and give up on sport altogether.
Make no mistake, parents have the best intentions but they may not know how best to help their children strive for success without undue pressure.
I’ll attempt to share how we can address this challenge over 12 related tips that are built on each other.
The first 3 tips will help parents reflect on the WHY, specifically, 1. The purpose behind youth sport and, 2. How we ought to define success in youth sport (or even in life!)
This understanding will provide you with the guidance when you start applying the remaining tips on HOW to help young athletes do their best without being over- whelmed by the pressures to win and to look good.
Specifically, the focus is on how we can help young athletes build resilience in sport and life through a constructive Parent – Athlete relationship.
Tip 1: Remember Why…
“Why do children take part in Sport?” vs.
“Why do parents want their children to take part in Sport?”
I was at the National Youth Sport Institute (NYSI) conference for Sport Parents. One of the speakers Andrew Pichardo reminded parents to remember why kids take part in Sport. Children take part in sport to have fun and to make friends.
Tensions will inevitably arise when parents overemphasize on winning and worse, start influencing their children to perceive their peers more as competitors rather than friends.
Parent ought to also spend some time reflecting on why they want their children to take part in sports, and if these reasons are aligned with their current behaviours.
Tip 2: Success without happiness is NOT Success
It is challenging to have a healthy outlook on success against a “must win” aka “Kiasu” backdrop where the definition of failure and success is so narrow – you either win or you lose. Since there is only one winner in any competition, does that mean the rest of the competitors are losers?
This narrow definition kills the joy of competition and little wonder why kids are dropping out of Sport!
“There is no point telling a 10-year-old kid ‘you have to win’, and every day he carries on his shoulder the burden of winning and trains in order to win. It takes away the joy of sports participation. Let him grow, learn and enjoy the sport.”
Mr Ong Kim Soon,
Director of Physical, Sports & Outdoor Education Branch.
Parents who want to raise successful achievers view success and happiness as mutually inclusive. They often have a long term perspective and are able to define success in a way that taps into their children’s intrinsic motivation.
Tip 3: Success = Effort and Learning
School competitions are mainly won by the early developers – the taller and stronger kids and those who have access to better resources. Specifically, an early bloomer with (or even without) better resources will almost definitely beat the late developers.
Pause and think about this for a moment. If success is only about winning, where does this leave the late bloomers? Most of them would give up without developing their potential. Nothing is more discouraging to effort and persistence than know- ing that you are deemed a loser despite your best efforts – it’s an invitation to helplessness.
Success = Winning OR, Success = Effort and Learning?
Would it be more worthwhile for us to adopt a longer-term perspective to success? One that helps kids develop a love of learning and resilience in the face of obstacles beyond sport.
When we focus on the effort that leads to progress and improvement, not only would this help the late bloomers who’s athletic abilities will only become appar- ent later, but we are also equipping our youth with the attributes to succeed in the game of life.
“So HOW exactly do we raise successful and happy athletes?”
Tip 4: Stop “Should-ing!”
Imagine a parent who’s driving his kid to competition while relentlessly reminding her about what she must, should or should not do.
What’s that going to do to her mental game? Not only is this annoying, but she is also going to bring all these perceived demands into the game and she’s either going to try too hard or become too tentative and cautious. Both are opposite sides of the same coin stemming from a fear of failure and judgement.
What is this parent likely to do right after the game? No prizes for guessing! He will go into a barrage of “You should have-s” and “I told you so-s”.
No wonder sports is no longer fun and the young athlete suffers from performance anxiety!
Don’t get me wrong, I understand that feedback and reminders are important but there has to be a better way to do this.
Tip 5: Ask instead of Tell
Instead of saying “You should grip the club with your fingers instead of your palm.” Try “What’s the best way to hold your club?”
Instead of saying “You should really start scoring.” Try “What have you learnt from your coach that will help you shoot more accurately?”
“The brain that does the thinking, does the learning…” Ms Penny Crisfield, Inter- national Council for Coaching Excellence (ICCE) Master Trainer
Is it wrong to Tell? You are the adult and you are simply using your knowledge and experience to teach your kids what to do. What’s so wrong with that? Well, it’s not wrong to tell and it really depends on whether your instructions are based on the process or outcome.
Telling is associated with Teaching while Asking is related more to Coaching. Good coaching is a combination of Telling and Asking. The problem is that we are relying so much more on Telling rather than Asking to coach athletes.
Tip 6: More Coaching and Less Teaching
This is related closely to Tip 5. Teaching is primarily a one-way interaction. The teacher is the expert and shows or tells the learner how to do something. The learner either gets it right or wrong.
Indeed, Coaching requires practice and experienced coaches use a range of techniques to encourage learners to become confident and independent thinkers. How- ever, this does not mean that you can’t coach. Now, I don’t mean interfering with the Sports Coach. Let the Coach do his job on the field. In fact, you ought to respect the coaches’ role instead of giving contradicting pointers.
What I’m suggesting is a better way to do a review (after practice or competition) with your young athlete instead of going into a tirade of ‘I told you so-s’!
You will learn how to praise effective effort and progress in the Parents As Coach E-Course.
Tip 7: Review with the ESL Reflection Model
The ESL reflection model (scroll down to the infographic) is a feedback tool that I’ve developed for both coaches and parents. They have found it to be simple, intuitive and effective!
It is based on the three behaviours associated with the Growth Mindset – Effort, Support and Learning. Under each behaviour, you will find questions or thinking routines intended to help align your athlete’s thoughts with the Growth Mindset.
Remember to do a review only when the athlete is receptive. Attempting to do so when the athlete is feeling emotional after a loss is definitely a bad idea! Athletes will learn more about the ESL Reflection Model during their 1-to-1 Coaching Program.
Tip 8: Praise Effort and Learning
You’ve probably heard this one before but it’s a worthwhile reminder. Praising talent and ability actually pushes your young athlete towards the Fixed Mindset where she is more likely to be overly concerned about how she looks, be more likely to suffer from performance anxiety, and gives up easily.
Specifically, we are helping athletes develop confidence and resilience by focusing their energies on what they have control over (e.g., process goals, effort and learning from mistakes), rather than feeling helpless and anxious over things that they have no direct control over (e.g., winning and how others will perceive them).
They are also more likely to be reflective independent thinkers who have fun while pursuing their sporting goals.
Learners who are praised for effort tend to value hard work and striving to learn far more than looking smart. Meanwhile, I’ve summarized Tips 7, 8 and more with the infographic on the next page.
Tip 9: Do Not be rude towards players, other parents, coaches and officials
This one seems like common sense but the often ultra-competitive and sometimes fanatical context of youth sport makes these parents completely lose perspective. We sometimes see parents arguing with referees, coaches and even secretly scouting other competitors.
“If we want young players to be composed on the field then we adults ought to be able to do the same as we guide them through sport and life…”
Tip 10: Encourage, Encourage, Encourage!
This is going to sound really challenging especially in our local context – the best thing that a parent can do is to have an absolute absence of concern for results. Be supportive of them when they are winning and be even more supportive when they have the courage to fail.
It’s hard to be encouraging when we are constantly focused on the score though. When adults do that, the kids are learning that mistakes are NOT OK and that your love is conditional on winning. This has also implications on their composure, confidence and even their mental health.
Sometimes, being encouraging does not mean that you always have to be at all the training and competitions. I know more than a few youngsters who actually prefer their parent to not be present at games.
Tip 11: Model the Growth Mindset
If we want children to be composed on the field, we adults need to get a grip of our own emotions as we guide them through Sport and Life.
When we are deliberate about making use of the ESL (Effort, Support and Learning) reflection model to provide feedback and to guide our own thinking, our own thoughts and emotions soon begin to shift as well. We are more likely to remain calm, supportive to model composure and the Growth Mindset.
Last but not least…
Tip 12: Don’t take yourself too seriously
As I am dishing out this advice, myself a psychology coach no less, have been guilty of losing it at games too. I wanted my team to win so badly and I went “wtf was that??!!!” I had to remind myself that I was an adult and that the players were going to get even more nervous if I behaved like a wreck.
We all mess up sometimes and these are opportunities to remind ourselves to be less reactive to our emotions and refocus on why children take part in sports (Tip 1), and that success without happiness is NOT a success (Tip 2).
That’s it! This is the final piece for ‘Sport Parenting Tips from a Non-Parent’. I hope that they’ve given you some insights into youth sport.
I’ve worked with hundreds of youth athletes and some have achieved success at regional and international games. For most, it simply meant achieving the goals that they set for themselves. For almost all, it meant a remarkable experience that positively shaped their futures.
For every one of those athletes, there were parents who were committed to being the best sport parent they could be. There were parents who had the strength to resist the unhealthy messages that are so prevalent in youth sports these days. And there were parents who were determined to send messages to their children that would help them becomes successful achievers not only in Sport, but in Life.
If you’re reading this e-book, chances are that you love your children and want to give them every opportunity to experience all that sports participation has to offer. I would suggest that you look into enrolling in the Parent as Coach E- Program.
The Parent as Coach E-Program has been developed for sport parents who are keen to help their young athlete achieve their athletic and life goals, while raising them to be happy and resilient!
Courtesy of Mental Edge
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