What Your Child Athlete Needs From You
UNDERSTANDING YOUR ROLE AS A PARENT
As a parent, you have the potential to tremendously influence your child’s level of confidence and success. On and off the field, what you do and don’t do will carry some weight. I don’t say this to scare you-- it’s also an opportunity to grow closer to your child. You can use The WIN Method as a strategy to help guide your decision-making and make sports fun for your child.
USING THE WIN METHOD
WIN stands for “What’s Important Now?” The overarching goal of WIN is to be a guide for your thoughts. The backbone of The WIN Method is asking better questions. Asking better questions→ more effective answers→ more effective actions to achieve results.
It seems natural to give your children answers to help them learn. While information is always important, is is critical to ask your children good questions so they can develop the skills to find their own answers. Respond to them with open ended questions about their experiences on and off the field. A child who has to think for him or herself will learn to take responsibility for their own learning, rather than always waiting to be given the answers or solutions to a problem.
KEEP THE FOCUS ON THINGS THEY CAN CONTROL
If questions are the backbone of The WIN Method, the concept of focusing is the internal organs. The questions you ask will inevitably direct or redirect your child’s attention. Much of the stress and pressure from competing come from athletes worrying about what they can’t control. Direct your questions deliberately. Help your child focus on what they do have influence over— things like attitude, effort, thinking, motivation, and confidence, to name a few. Uncontrollable elements like opponents, weather, family, coaches, and the outcome of a game will all draw your child’s attention away from their performance.
By placing your attention on the controllable factors of the game, your child will learn to value them the highest. Instead of focusing on winning or losing, when you discuss the sport with your child you might ask them about what they thought of the game or when they had a good moment. If they are anxious about an upcoming opponent, help them list their own abilities, and emphasize that an opponent is a player just like them. This will set a precedent for your child to focus on their own performance, not just winning.
BE DELIBERATE IN YOUR FEEDBACK
Another principle in The WIN Method is to focus on what specifically is desired. Too often, coaches and parents slip into negative or “don’t” language. For example, a coach that approaches the mound to help a struggling pitcher may give him plenty of positive advice until he turns to leave and says, “whatever you do, don’t throw a fast ball.” This leaves the pitcher with the image of a fast ball and a new fear, making it harder for him decide which is the better choice. Pay attention to your “don’ts” and change them into specific “dos.”
Performance power is in the present. (Say that one five times fast). If a player is dwelling on past mistakes or worrying about future events, they’ll lose their focus for the game. That’s why the “Now” in WIN is so important. Off the field, thinking about the future is very valuable, and you can help your children plan for attainable performance goals. But during practice or competition, athletes must remain in the present as much as possible. Many athletes, whatever their age, will often leave practice and games complaining about the mistakes they made. That’s fine-- but when they’re finished venting, ask them how they plan to correct them. Do they need help from a coach? Some more time to practice after school? Your child will move from negative emotions to problem solving; the mistake becomes less personal, just something to fix.
While mistakes are always made, it’s not like they make up the entire playing time. Help your young athlete review the many successes they worked to achieved. And especially be sure to ask them how they created those successes; the more you know about an achievement, the easier it will be to replicate it. These strategies will also help support your child’s self confidence.
When dealing with mistakes, timing is a factor too. A good rule of thumb is to focus more on an athlete’s strengths closer to competition. That way, the days before the match she will feel solid and know what skills she can trust in. After the contest in practice sessions, the coach can help turn her attention to the skills that need work.
After all that talk, it may seem redundant to state that the process should always be the focus, not the outcome. Yet our culture as a whole is so outcome-focused that most people have a well-developed habit of caring most about the final score. Remember, winning is not completely within the control of the athlete— particularly in the case of young athletes. They could have an outstanding performance and still lose. On the other hand, an athlete can control their effort, and that will have an effect on their performance.
Sports are fun! The more enjoyable you can make them for your child, the longer they’ll stay involved, and the more they’ll learn. Methods of mental skill training are applicable far beyond sports--any situation with pressure and a requirement to focus could merit some or all of these strategies. As a parent, your job is to wave from the sidelines; let the coach be the instructor and the taskmaster. You’re the cheerleader, offering unconditional love and support, reminding your young athlete of why they go out onto the field in the first place.