The pathway to self-reliance
By Greg Bach
Many kids’ experiences in sports these days are compromised by negative emotions bogging them down, which stalls skill development, squashes fun and even results in some giving up on the sport for good.
“We’re not letting kids process their negative emotions,” says James Reid, an Orlando-based high-performance coach, a volunteer youth sports coach, and a dad of three. “We are basically throwing them under a rug and telling them to ‘be stronger,’ but we’re not allowing our kids to accept the fact that they are nervous or sad or disappointed or frustrated.”
Poor emotional management, which Reid writes about in this blog post – The Sneaky Six: 6 Traps Preventing Athletes from Reaching Their Highest Sustained Potential – can wreck a child’s season.
And have long-term ramifications, too.
It’s why it’s so important that parents have conversations with their kids on dealing with the highs and lows of competing, and wrapping their arms around the fact that failing one day doesn’t mean you’re destined for a season of it.
“I’m working with a lot of Major League players, professional athletes and Olympic athletes, and I’m seeing a lot of what wasn’t addressed at 10, 11, 12 and in the teen years manifest itself and it really puts these high-level athletes behind the eight ball,” Reid says. “They are essentially getting stuck. They reach a level and they are getting stuck when they have two, three, four levels left in them.”
It’s why a parent’s words – the right ones – can be real difference makers for a young athlete.
“Every athlete has a link back to an interaction with a family member, a relationship with a parent, or something that was said to them during an athletic competition,” Reid says.
So here’s the scenario that happens all the time in youth baseball and softball, for example. A youngster strikes out a couple of times, or goes hitless, and the shoulders sag and the confidence plummets.
And frustration settles in.
“What’s happening to our kids today is everything is life or death and striking out is a permanent thing to them,” Reid says. “So it’s about empowering parents to have their kids accept the fact that they are feeling a certain way and that feeling that way is normal and that they have the power in them to actually move forward from it.”
Reid shares this approach for parents to help their kids: begin by asking the child what they are frustrated about – the child shares they are frustrated over their strikeouts – and then following up by asking them if this is a temporary or permanent matter.
Kids grasp that it’s temporary, and parents steer the conversation to asking what’s one thing the youngster could do to help improve their chances at the plate the next time.
“Kids need to know they are going to deal with failure,” Reid says. “But have them share what’s one thing they can do that is in their control that will make them feel better about the next time they go up to bat.”
It could be extra practice at home in the backyard or showing up early to the next team practice for extra hitting, among many other options.
“It’s getting them to go, ‘Oh, I’m OK to feel frustrated? And I have the power to do something about it? And I don’t have to rely on my parent,’” Reid says. “So now we’re creating that self-reliant kid who is more in tune with their own power and less attached to the crutch, which could be their mom or dad or coach.”
For more from Reid, check out his blogs and resources; or connect with him.
Former University of Michigan hockey player and current youth sports coach Tim Cook, author of the new book Youth Sports: How to Play the Game, on talking to coaches, celebrating failure, and more
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