I realize this is outside of the scope of normal training questions, but I listened to your podcast of the youth athlete and would love to ask a follow-up. My daughter is nine and really getting into sport. She plays basketball, soccer and wants to begin to run, swim, ride, and all the good stuff! The teams she plays with seem to be pretty results-focused, and I am trying to adopt language to help her love the sport and grow.
Could you outline key phrases or supportive comments for me to support her?
I am sure many parents have similar challenges and questions -- I know that Kelli and I do.
A very short answer is to anchor these two most important questions:
- Did you have fun?
- Did you try your best?
This is the barometer of success for a child and should set the lens that they view their own sporting life for the coming years.
Did you have fun? A reminder that sport should be fun and enjoyable, but also the initial grain of reality that long-term success can only be born out of a deep intrinsic passion for the process and a love of the endeavor itself.
Did you try your best? A simple first step to establishing the child’s barometer of success being anchored around things that are in their control. Effort and executing things as well as they possibly should be the dominant quest, not whether they or their team won. Results and outcomes can be celebrated or mourned, after all losing is not fun and winning really is, but these should not be the focus.
We anchor our questions around effort and fun. The rest will come and self-belief and confidence will always grow when the child realizes that judgment is not on things that are only partially in their control.
Of course, if you always rely on the same two questions, your kid is going to get pretty bored very quickly. Predictability will only produce apathy, and besides, sometimes you will really want to celebrate and display real pride and emotion. It is important that your child feels your joy in their performance and effort, and that you are really proud of them. This is achievable but using phrases such as:
"I really saw how hard you were working."
"You must be so proud of your effort -- you were really trying hard"
I should add, we must also acknowledge that things don’t always don’t go well. Sometimes your child is going to make big mistakes, that might even cost the team a basket or the game. It happens. We all underperform and make mistakes. What should we do then?
First, don’t try to innoculate your kid from failure. Allow them to swim in the emotions and feel the pain a little. Be with them, but don’t try to hide them from normal and important emotions that can stimulate growth. Empathy can reign here:
"I bet that was upsetting/annoying."
"Wow, you must be so frustrated."
Once you have let the emotions settle, you can even provide a little coaching (about the only time you should!). It is time to evolve (or die) from the failure, but I promise the child has the answers more than you:
"What did you learn?"
"How can you prevent that in the future?"
"What can you do to improve?"
If we utilize this as a little benchmark of your conversations, you are setting your child up for developing passion, awareness, resilience, and adaptability -- great skills to optimize their journey in sport, but more important the key characteristics of excellence in life.
Best of luck.
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