Three tips to win at the blame game

By John Ellsworth

After a tough loss or even a big win where your sports kid makes a few errors, what habits and behaviors do they exhibit after the game. Do they blame the loss or errors on external factors like the condition of the field, the officials, crowd noise, or the opposing team?

If this happens your kid is in the process of or has already developed a “blame game” mentality. At the end of the day its important for every kid to learn how to take the wins and losses into context. Taking responsibility for making mistakes is as important as feeling good about their individual performance in wins or losses. It’s important kids learn how to cope with the challenges that comes with making mistakes, or coming off of a poor individual performance.

“The major problem with making excuses and giving explanations is that it doesn’t help the child learn to manage him or herself or to perform,” says James Lehman MSW.

As sports parents, coaches, and mentors, it a necessity for everyone involved in kids sports to remember that’s its how the message is delivered that sets the tone for how kids cope with and learn from mistakes. Does the message support the “blame game“, or does it support the reality that mistakes are a part of life.

It’s important for adults to model positive behavior in the face of setbacks. The language adults use in both verbally and non-verbally teaches both good and bad approaches to coping with the situation. If kids see parents playing the “blame game” on an official or coach for a bad call they will learn that its permissible to deflect the responsibility for mistakes onto others.

Tip #1: The Role Model Concept

Here’s a novel idea, why not use the role model concept to talk to your young athletes about setbacks. Have a few examples ready to pull out of your back pocket of situations and athletes responses to these situations. They can serve as constructive alternatives to playing the “blame game.” Use all the resources at your disposal to educate your young athlete. Most important of all encourage your athlete to move on.

Everyone makes mistakes, fails, makes errors and get frustrated when they don’t have what it takes to be successful on the field of play on any given day.

Being able to deal with, rather than fear, mistakes is one of the most important character traits for a “Major League Person” to acquire. Consequently, I have felt that one of the most important contributions Positive Coaching Alliance (PCA) can make to improve youth sports is to make the “mistake ritual” a common practice in youth sports,” says Jim Thompson of the Positive Coaches Alliance (PCA).

Tip #2: Flushing the Mistakes

Many coaches have used the “flushing mistakes technique” to help athletes rid themselves of self blame for making mistakes. It’s a simple technique that requires the athlete to use a flushing motion, kind of like flushing a toilet, to metaphorically flush away the negative feeling that comes from making a mistake.

The 2000 US Women’s Olympic softball team used the flush to come out of the loser’s bracket to win the gold medal in Sydney.

Ken Ravizza, sports psychology professor at Cal State Fullerton and consultant to many college and professional teams, has developed the concept further. Ken, helped Cal State Fullerton turn its season around and win the NCAA Baseball Championship in 2004

Tip #3: Communicate Healthy Messages

We serve as teachers, parents, coaches and role models for young athletes. In these roles it’s critical we communicate messages that support healthy approaches to meeting life’s challenges void of defensive maneuvers to deflect and place the blame elsewhere. In doing so we not only develop healthy approaches to sport performance, but longer term tools for dealing with the challenges kids will face down the road of life.

For more information about this article contact or for information on mental game coaching contact John R. Ellsworth – Mental Game Coach at Protex Sports, LLC. www.protexsports.com. You can also send your questions to Ask Coach John.

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