Lost in Translation
By Ker’Shyra Myrick
Many young athletes are great practice performers – executing skills smoothly and confidently – but struggle to translate that high level of play over to game days.
“There are a decent amount of youth athletes who are focused when it comes to practice, but cannot stay focused during the actual competition,” says Dr. Taryn Morgan, Director of Athletic and Personal Development at the IMG Academy in Bradenton, Fla. “This is a pretty common scenario in youth sports.”
For starters, achieving more consistent performances requires shifting kids’ focus away from the scoreboard.
“From my own observation, I would say what happens in practice is that an athlete will focus on the process and getting better, but in the competition they focus on winning and losing,” says Morgan, who speaks at national and international conferences on athletic performance. “And the outcome of that causes them to not perform as well.”
Check out what she shared on how to help your young athletes become more consistent game day performers:
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What are the most common reasons kids can’t transfer their practice performances over to game day?
MORGAN: One big reason is young athletes focusing more on the outcome versus process. In practice, players are really relaxed and loose and focused on getting better. So if I play basketball I am focused on improving my dribbling and the form on my shot; and if I’m a tennis player I am really working on my footwork or how I'm serving. But then when it comes to the game all of a sudden I get tired and stressed because I'm focusing only on the fact that I have to win, and that is what becomes the most important thing to me. So now instead of thinking about how to play well and win I am only thinking about winning, which then causes youth athletes to get tight and causes them to think about the wrong things like, “I have to make this shot,” “I have to score this goal,” or “I have to win.” Whereas when they are practicing it’s okay for them to make a mistake. Instead of just winning one point or one shot at a time, young athletes make their focus really big and it becomes a big weight on their shoulders that brings even more pressure. So they focus too much on the big picture rather than on the little, simple things.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: What are common mistakes coaches make when dealing with a player who is struggling with this?
MORGAN: Focusing on the outcome too much. Coaches tell young athletes, “You have to throw a strike,” instead of teaching them the proper way to throw a strike. So, when a coach focuses too much on the outcome that makes it worse for an athlete. Another mistake coaches make is only focusing on the mistakes and not on the effort. This can really put a young athlete down, causing their fear of failure to increase. If every little mistake gets them in trouble that will cause them to not want to mess up more, which will actually cause them to start messing up more.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Is there anything parents can do to help young athletes handle the ups and downs of having a great game one week and turning in a disappointing performance the next week?
MORGAN: The best thing is for parents to just support their kids. Whether they have a great performance or not, parents should be supportive and present. Tell them you love to watch them play no matter what the outcome is.
Dr. Taryn Morgan
Long-time college football coach and author of Coaching is Teaching at its Best on being a difference maker in young lives through the power of sport
Princeton basketball coach Courtney Banghart, the 2015 Naismith Coach of the Year and widely recognized as one of the game’s great leaders, on what you need to know to get the most from your young athletes
Former college soccer midfielder and long-time youth coach Jillian Carroll on inspiring young athletes to work together and perform at their best on the field and in their lives
Former Stanford great Nicole Powell, head women’s basketball coach at Grand Canyon University, on creating team cultures where players genuinely care for and support each other