By Dev K. Mishra, M.D.
President, Sideline Sports Doc
How many times have we all watched in disbelief as our own child did something on a sports field that we thought was totally unimaginable? How many times have we openly shouted disapproval during a game when the unimaginable event took place? I’m going to guess that applies to a lot of us. It certainly applies to me. My thought for Independence Day is a simple statement that’s hard to follow: try whenever possible to stay out of your kid’s way on the sports field.
Much has been written in the literature about the psychology of success. In interviews with corporate CEOs, professional athletes, or successful public figures the individuals uniformly point to the value of early failure, and learning from that failure. In my opinion, we need to pay more attention to allowing our kids to fail at sports so that they may ultimately find success- on their terms.
This seems to be most true for the youngest kids. Sports psychologists note that kids at the youngest ages are playing more for parental approval than for “results” and similarly the adolescent often plays for peer approval. The effect of the in-game parental analysis is that it robs the youngster of the chance to fail with the security of knowing that it’s ok.
As parents, it’s incredibly important for us to think about what we say – both verbally and with out actions. Kids clearly pick up on these vibes, and if we aren’t careful, the reaction can be devastating. Rick Wolff and the Positive Coaching Alliance have some specific recommendations that we should all heed:
AVOID SARCASTIC REMARKS. Young kids and adolescents don’t understand sarcastic comments. The so-called humor is lost upon them so just avoid this.
NEVER BERATE THEM RIGHT AFTER A LOSS. After a tough game, give them some time to recuperate emotionally. Be supportive right after the game. Wait a day or two to go over the mistake, or better yet just leave that to the coach.
BE BRIEF. There’s never any need to talk for more than 3-4 minutes after any tough loss. Kids will quickly tune you out.
BE SPECIFIC IN YOUR PRAISE. Words like “Good game” or “Nice job” have zero impact. Rick Wolff writes: “If you really want to have an impact, be specific in your praise. Tell the youngster: Wow, look at how much progress you’ve made in dribbling the soccer ball with both feet, or Look at how well you can throw strikes…all of your hard work has really paid off.”
Our words and actions are very powerful, especially directed at the youngest kids. Practice your own independence and just let the kids play.