The third instalment in my four-part series focuses on nurturing your child in their youth sports.
Step seven: Your child is not their performance - love them unconditionally
Do not equate your child's self-worth and loveability with their performance. The most tragic and damaging mistake I see parents continually make is punishing a child for a bad performance by withdrawing emotionally from them. A child loses a race, strikes out or misses an easy shot on goal and the parent responds with disgust, anger and withdrawal of love and approval. CAUTION: Only use this strategy if you want to damage your child emotionally and ruin your relationship with them. When Olympic diver, Greg Louganis, needed and got a perfect 10 on his last dive to overtake the Chinese diver for the gold medal, his last thought before he went was, "If I don't make it, my mother will still love me".
Step eight: Remember the importance of building self-esteem in all of your interactions
Athletes of all ages and levels perform in direct relationship to how they feel about themselves. When your child is in an athletic environment that boosts self-esteem, he/she will learn faster, enjoy themselves more and perform better under competitive pressure. One thing we all want as children and never stop wanting is to be loved and accepted, and to have our parents feel good about what we do. This is how self-esteem gets established. When your interactions with your child make them feel good about themselves, they will, in turn, learn to treat themselves this very same way. This does not mean that you have to incongruently compliment your child for a great effort after they have just performed miserably. In this situation being empathetic and sensitive to his/her feelings is what's called for. Self-esteem makes the world go round. Make your child feel good about themselves and you've given them a gift that lasts a lifetime. Do not interact with your child in a way that assaults their self-esteem by degrading, embarrassing or humiliating them. If you continually put your child down or minimise their accomplishments not only will they learn to do this to themselves throughout their life, but they will also repeat your mistake with their children.
Step nine: Teach your child the gift of failure
If you really want your child to be as happy and as successful as possible in everything that they do, then teach them how to fail! The most successful people in and out of sports do two things differently than everyone else. First, they are more willing to take risks and therefore fail more frequently. Second, they use their failures in a positive way as a source of motivation and feedback to improve. Our society is generally negative and teaches us that failure is bad, a cause for humiliation and embarrassment, and something to be avoided at all costs. Fear of failure or humiliation causes one to be tentative and non-active. In fact, most performance blocks and poor performances are a direct result of the athlete being preoccupied with failing or messing up. You can't learn to walk without falling ENOUGH times. Each time that you fall, your body gets valuable information on how to do it better. You can't be successful or have peak performances if you are concerned with losing or failing. Teach your child how to view setbacks, mistakes and risk-taking positively and you'll have given them the key to a lifetime of success. Failure is the perfect stepping stone to success.