This is the first of a four-part series of blogs from my competitivedge.com site on what it takes to be a winning parent – no matter what the sport.
If you want your child to come out of their youth sport experience a winner (feeling good about themselves and having a healthy attitude towards sport), they’ll need your help. You are a vital and important part of the coach-athlete-parent team. If you perform the role well, your child will learn their chosen sport faster, perform better, have great fun and enhance their self-esteem. They will be able to fall back on their positive experience in sport as they face up to other challenges in their life.
If you "drop the ball" or run the wrong way with it, your child will stop learning, experience performance difficulties and blocks, and begin to really hate the sport. And that's the good news! What’s more, your relationship with them is likely to suffer greatly. As a result, they will come out of this experience burdened with feelings of failure, inadequacy and low self-esteem, feelings that will manifest themselves in other areas of their life. Your son/daughter and their coach need you on the team. They can't win without you.
I have 13 useful facts, guidelines and strategies for you to use to make you more skilled in the youth sport game. Here are the first three.
Step One - Understand your child’s competition is their most valuable training partner
When defined the right way, competition in youth sport is both good and healthy and teaches children a variety of important life skills. The word "compete" comes from the Latin words "com" and "petere" which mean together and seeking respectively. The true definition of competition is a seeking together where your opponent is your partner, not the enemy. The better he/she performs, the more chance you have of having a peak performance. Sport is about learning to deal with challenges and obstacles. Without a worthy opponent, without any challenges, sport is not so much fun. The more the challenge, the better the opportunity you have to go beyond your limits. World records are consistently broken and set at the Olympics because the best athletes in the world are "seeking together", challenging each other to enhanced performance. Your child should never be taught to view his/her opponent as the "bad guy", the enemy or someone to be hated and "destroyed". Do not model this attitude. Instead, talk to/make friends with parents of your child's opponent. Root for great performances, good plays, not just for the winner.
Step two – Encourage your child to compete against themselves
The ultimate goal of the sport experience is to challenge oneself and continually improve. Unfortunately, judging improvement by winning and losing is both an unfair and inaccurate measure. Winning in sport is about doing the best you can do, separate from the outcome or the play of your opponent. Children should be encouraged to compete against their own potential (i.e., Peter and Patty Potential). That is, the boys should focus on beating "Peter", competing against themselves, while the girls challenge "Patty". When your child has this focus and plays to better themselves instead of beating someone else, they will be more relaxed, have more fun and therefore perform better.
Step three – Don’t define success and failure in terms of winning and losing
A corollary to TWO, one of the main purposes of the youth sport experience is skill acquisition and mastery. When a child performs to their potential and loses, it is criminal to focus on the outcome and become critical. If a child plays their very best and loses, you need to help them feel like a winner. Similarly, when a child or team performs far below their potential but wins, this is not cause to feel like a winner. Help your child make this important separation between success and failure and winning and losing. Remember, if you define success and failure in terms of winning and losing, you're playing a losing game with your child.