Parenting a young athlete, in many cases, may be more mentally grueling than competing…
As sports parents, we don’t want our children to fail. We invest a lot of time, money, effort, emotion and energy to surround our “young athlete” with all the resources to be successful in their sport.
When you see your young athlete fail, it is heart wrenching.
You may feel sad that they missed the mark in a particular competition… You may feel helpless not knowing how to solve their problems… Or you may feel angry that your child does not put forth the effort to succeed after all the help you have provided for them. Your feelings and concerns are justified… It’s hard to be a caring sports parent!
Learning to Let Go
In an effort to shield your children from failing, you may dissect their performance, give them pre-competition advice, talk to their coach about their sticking points, coach them at home or have them participate in extra training.
While your intentions are noble, you may actually be impeding your young athlete’s growth, increasing their anxiety, lowering their sense of competency and place more pressure upon them.
By not letting your child fail, they will not learn to how to problem solve, develop independence and responsibility, learn to manage negative emotions and you may actually contribute to further under-performing.
Baby Steps: Benefits of Falling
When your child is first learning to walk, you are a nervous wreck… Just like you are now as a sports parent.
Yet when a baby falls, they gain valuable feedback about balance, motion and their environment… It is the falling that is necessary and critical to success.
Let’s apply the walking metaphor to tennis…
You are nervous your young tennis might fail.
After a match, you try to give them feedback how to do things differently, remind them of things their coaches have said, remind them about the importance of hard work, have them hit 100 serves after practice or hire another private coach.
All these “good intentions” do not allow your young tennis player to figure things out on their own. You actually impede the learning process and may de-motivate your child.
It may be difficult to let go but it is critical to your child’s success in sports and will have further implications in life when they face adversity.
Lessons From Falling
For the sake of argument, let’s distinguish between “falling” and “failing.”
Falling is hitting speed bumps. Speed bumps may slow an athlete down but it doesn’t have to stop their progress.
Failing is quitting or giving up.
Falling has many benefits:
- Falling provides feedback – It’s an opportunity to get your child to make some changes.
- Falling can be empowering – Knowing you can make changes and improve performance builds a young athlete’s self-concept and self-confidence.
- Falling teaches responsibility – There are positive or negative consequences for our choices.
- Falling builds hardiness – Dealing with the negative emotions helps your child develop tolerance for negative emotions and help them weather future adversity.
Tardio Tips: Strategies for helping your athlete learn from falling
- Give you child time to cool off after a fall.
- Ask open-ended questions to lead your child to find their own solutions.
“What do you think happened during that match?”
“What can you do differently next time?”
“Even though that was tough, what went well?”
These questions will foster a sense of independence, motivation, responsibility and helps them developing healthier ways of responding to adversity.
Normalize falling by letting them know even the best athletes (Michael Jordan, Maria Sharipova, Serena Williams, Raphael Nadal, Andrew Luck) have experienced speed bumps.
The key is learning from their mistakes and falling forward.
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