Does your young athlete hate losing?
By Ker’Shyra Myrick
As kids get older, progress and improve their skills, there comes a time when winning is the only thing that matters to them.
And while it’s a tough lesson to teach, losing can be instrumental in helping a child grow and learn.
Of course, coaches and parents are going to have kids who hate to lose. Are these kids sore losers? Or simply competitive and passionate about the game?
We spoke with Dr. Jason Youngman, a licensed psychologist in private practice in Miami, Fla., about kids who hate losing, and how parents and coaches can help a child learn from failure and disappointment that is an integral part of competing.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How can losing at sports actually help young athletes become better?
YOUNGMAN: Losing can help kids learn how to deal with adversity. Life is filled with ups and downs and parents try to shield kids from negative experiences. Young athletes should not shy away from experiencing a full range of emotions. If they learn the skill set to manage emotions they will be able to handle losing when they get older. Frustration, anger, disappointment – all of these emotions can help us when we get older. Parents should allow their athletes to experience losing, process the situation, and deal with that particular challenge in their life. The youth level should be used to develop skills in the context of sports that you can use elsewhere, in the classroom, socially with friends and family, etc.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How should parents and coaches of young athletes handle their kids losing?
YOUNGMAN: There are three motivations that should be addressed with young athletes: have fun, socialize and please parents. Parents should address these three areas with young athletes instead of focusing on the outcome. Parents and coaches should prepare young athletes for any outcome. A lot of things can be learned from watching kids practice. Parents and coaches should ask themselves: How fun and diverse are the practices? Are kids learning how to socialize in practice? Practice can be a vehicle for social interaction. This can be a great time to talk with kids about how to handle their emotions.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Is there anything a coach can do to stop the downward losing spiral before it gets out of control?
YOUNGMAN: There are four areas that should be addressed by the coach: 1. Technical – how you play the sport and using proper form; 2. Tactical – the strategy of how you play the sport; 3. Physical – how an athlete develops physically; and 4. Mental/psychological – how do people deal with the mental aspect of sports and their emotional regulation. A team might be losing because they have not learned the skill set needed to help them win. I would encourage the coach to analyze those four areas and see which one needs the most improvement and plan accordingly. Also, the team could be losing because of something that is out of their control, so the coach might not be able to help the downward spiral.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: How can a coach motivate a player that hates to lose who is on a losing team?
YOUNGMAN: The coach should focus on having fun and the process and preparation for games. A coach should ask themselves “are the kids striving to improve every day?” Coaches should focus on team building and the social aspects of working with one another by developing a certain level of camaraderie and team cohesiveness.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Should young athletes on a losing team focus on making themselves a better player, or helping their team win?
YOUNGMAN: Individual players should always strive to be better in the four areas mentioned above. If you are on a losing team you can always work to be better, and also learn to be a better communicator. As kids grow and mature they can focus on becoming a better teammate and leader. If everyone improved individually it would most certainly help the team. Once you remove the focus from the outcome, an individual should focus on the team working together.
SPORTINGKID LIVE: Should parents remove their child from a losing team?
YOUNGMAN: No, because if you look at the purpose of sport, there are parents who think sports is about getting scholarships and turning their kids into professional athletes. Sports are a vehicle to help children develop. Problem solving, communicating, accomplishing goals and improving self esteem can all be learned by winners and losers. Taking a child off a losing team might send a message that it is acceptable to quit when things get tough. Less than ideal experiences are a great time for kids to learn. Help kids develop a mental skill set or mind frame to deal with things when they aren’t going so well. Mistakes and experiencing the full range of emotion is healthy.
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