Let’s be honest, everyone wants to win. As parents, you want to help your child develop a sense of confidence and discipline in sports; and as a sports parent, you’d love for your child to reach their full potential in the game they love. However, pushing your child to strive for greatness without pressing them can be challenging.
It’s no secret that sports success is linked closely to an athlete’s mental toughness. If your favorite athlete struggles to perform well in competition, shows signs of frustration, talk about quitting or display low levels, mental game training can help. In other words, parents should not make assumptions about their child’s behavior in sports. At first, you might feel your child isn’t trying hard enough, or maybe even takes the game too seriously. When your kid appears to struggle with their performance, it’s important that you communicate with them. Help them identify the root of the problem.
If your child appears to take themselves or their heads out the game they love, try to understand if they are struggling with one or more of these classic mental game challenges:
Overcoming the Fear of Failure
With over 7.8 million children participating in sports, it’s no wonder why so many young adults want to perform well during games. The competitions high. Kids, in particular, who focus on making mistakes tend to overthink their personal or try too hard. This is why parents along with coaches and sports educators need to be aware of a child’s growth. These stages are physical, emotional, and mental which could impact all areas of a child’s academic and athletic life. Furthermore, trying too hard results in too much anxiety about the outcome of the game. Kids also become tense and play tentatively, which then hurts their overall performance.
Giving Up Towards the End
If your child has played a sport, you’ve probably been stuck chauffeuring them to practice and games; spent weekends on the field or beside the court; laced up soccer or football cleats for 8 am practice; paid for new equipment, clothes, food, and lessons; and possibly gotten involved in parent booster/ fundraiser club. Sports are a family commitment. So, when a child gives up when all hope is gone, it’s up to the family to get things back in order. A parent may assume that their kids do not care about the game if they give up –or stop trying– in competition. When kids lose, their temper and/or self-esteem can suffer tremendously. These athletes may also lack trust in their abilities.
When children announce they’re quitting, sometimes after spending as much as five years at their sport, many parents are upset and even angry. After all, as a parent, you’ve invested so much time, energy, and money. Instead of being frustrated, however, try to understand their reasoning. This is usually the first step in knowing how to respond.
Frustration to Meet High Expectations
Your child may have high expectations for themselves, such as making every free throw, making every tackle, or winning every game they play. These high expectations can set kids up for failure. Kids either achieve their goals and expectations or they don’t. It’s simple. Most of the time these expectations are too high and young athletes have a difficult time reaching them, which makes them more likely to experience depression.
Parents should also be careful what they tell their child just before a performance. Yes, even if you’re joking around when you say it. The best thing to advise your child to do is, “Have fun,” and enjoy the sport the sport they’re playing.
Approval from Others
Kids generally want to please their parents; and as humans, we naturally share an innate drive to connect with others. That being said, one challenge for many young athletes today is the fact they worry so much about what others think when they perform and this is a big distraction. Because the consequences of being rejected are so extreme, a child’s brain is programmed to avoid disapproval from other. In fact, studies have shown that social rejection can also lead to physical pain, which helps explain why rejection hurts so much.
Kids may feel pressure to meet the expectations of parents, teammates, and coaches. This causes them to judge their performance, and make assumptions about other perspectives. For instance, they might think, “If I miss this free throw coach won’t play me anymore,” or, “If I strike out my parents will be embarrassed.” Young athletes are in tune with how they are perceived by others.
These are just a few of the most common challenges that affect a young athlete’s behavior just before or after a game. Before you make an assumption about your child’s game, be sure to think about the challenges listed above and try to understand if your athlete is struggling with one or more of them.
In order to become mentally tough, young athletes need to learn to:
- Build confidence that can be transferred from practice to competition.
- Define and manage the high expectations that can quickly lead to frustration and anger.
- Let go and move on when mistakes happen during a game and/or competition.
- Manage distractions and negative thoughts/ feelings to perform with laser-like focus.