Here is the final blog in my four-part series on how to be a winning and supportive parent. I hope this and the other blogs will assist you in helping your child to get the most out of their chosen sport.
Step 10: Challenge, don’t threaten
Many parents directly or indirectly use guilt and threats as a way to “motivate” their child to perform better. Performance studies clearly indicate that while threats may provide short term results, the long term costs in terms of mental health and performance are devastating. Using fear as a motivator is probably one of the worst dynamics you could set up with your child. Threats take the fun out of performance and directly lead to your child performing terribly. Implicit in a threat, (do this or else!) is your own anxiety that YOU do not believe the child is capable. Communicating this lack of belief, even indirectly is further devastating to the child’s performance. A challenge does not entail loss or negative consequences should the athlete fail. Further, implicit in a challenge is the empowering belief, “I think that you can do it”.
Step 11: Stress the process, not the outcome
When athletes choke under pressure and perform far below their potential, a very common cause of this is a focus on the outcome of the performance (i.e., win/lose, instead of the process). In any peak performance, the athlete is totally oblivious to the outcome and instead is completely absorbed in the here and now of the actual performance. An outcome focus will almost always distract and tighten up the athlete insuring a bad performance. Furthermore focusing on the outcome, which is completely out of the athlete’s control will raise their anxiety to a performance inhibiting level. So if you truly want your child to win, help get their focus away from how important the contest is and have them focus on the task at hand. Supportive parents de-emphasise winning and instead stress learning the skills and playing the game.
Step 12: Avoid comparisons and respect developmental differences
Supportive parents do not use other athletes that their child competes against to compare and thus evaluate their child’s progress. Comparisons are useless, inaccurate and destructive. Each child matures differently and the process of comparison ignores significant distorting effects of developmental differences. For example, two 12-year-old boys may only have their age in common! One may physically have the build and perform like a 16-year-old while the other, a late developer, may have the physical size and attribute of a 9-year-old. Performance comparisons can prematurely turn off otherwise talented athletes on their sport. The only value of comparisons is in teaching. If one child demonstrates proper technique, that child can be used comparatively as a model only! For your child to do his/her very best, he/she needs to learn to stay within themselves. Worrying about how another athlete is doing interferes with them doing this.
Step 13: Teach your child to have a perspective of their sport
The sports media would like you to believe that sports and winning/losing is larger than life. The fact that it is just a game frequently gets lost in translation. This lack of perspective frequently trickles down to the youth sport level and young athletes often come away from competition with a distorted view of themselves and how they performed. Parents need to help their children develop realistic expectations about themselves, their abilities and how they played, without robbing the child of his dreams. Swimming a lifetime best time and coming in dead last is a cause for celebration, not depression. Similarly, losing the conference championships does not mean that the sun will not rise tomorrow.