By Craig Sigl
Strategy #9. Stop delivering typical sports cliches and trite sayings that mean nothing to a kid like:
“You just have to believe in yourself”
“When you’re out there, you have to be focused”
“Just go out there and have fun”
I often catch some flak for this but follow me here because this is my personal pet peeve having worked in this area for so long, and youth coaches are the worst offenders.
Think about this, can you explain to a kid HOW to believe in themselves? Can you give them the definitive steps to “Stop overthinking?” Or how about that vague command to “Get focused” or “Get your head in the game?”
They don’t know what any of that means, let alone HOW to do what you are telling them. And so what happens? You create confusion, uncertainty, worry that they “Aren’t doing it right” and will ultimately disappoint the adults giving them the advice.
So, instead of the kid just playing in the present moment with their body, which they do naturally and don’t have to be told HOW to do, by the way, we teach them with these silly cliche’s to get in their head and their useless fear-based thoughts.
Also, you might think that telling them to “Just go out there and have fun” is good advice and it CAN be…but, it is a risky move and here’s why:
The whole culture of youth sports is organized around winning and how well the kids perform. There’s no question about that.
Coaches, parents in the stands cheering good play and being disappointed in poor play like I already mentioned…and other messages constantly coming at them like:
Did you win?
How did you do?
Did you start today?
Did you score?
How many points? etc.
If that isn’t enough, Kids base their identity on whether or not they get playing time, make the team, get to the next level and even their friendships are centered around this. These messages are constant and everywhere…
and then you go and tell them to “Just go out there and have fun.” They hear that and at best, they forget it after 2 minutes and slip back into the whole performance-centered mentality they’ve been overwhelmed with. And at worst, subconsciously destroy their confidence in advice from you because of the mixed messages. Kids don’t need anyone to tell them that. Doing stuff is either fun or it isn’t… they don’t have to “try” to have fun.
The irony of of it all is that the parent or coach is giving the advice with the hopes that it helps their performance when in actuality, it hurts it.
Strategy #10. Do whatever you can to foster fearlessness.
The core of my work with all athletes is in helping them get over fears, in particular, all forms of “Fear of Failure.”
As the smallest boy in junior high and high school for years getting bullied and picked on, I lived with a lot of fear and carried it into adulthood. I vowed in raising my 2 boys that this would NOT happen to them.
I am proud to report that as young men, they are both pretty fearless. One of them has spent 2 summers selling pest control door to door. The other one joined the Air Force and had to be talked down by his mother from wanting to be a helicopter gunner in combat and has as his motto: “I just don’t care what others think.” The interesting thing about his motto is that he has tons of friends and has always had no problem making friends contrary to what most kids think. (I’m brushing my knuckles across my chest and patting myself on the back for that one!)
How did I do it? Well, of course, I taught them what I teach all of my clients and in addition to that, I think the piece d’resistance is that, regularly, I would grab my boys and get them in the car and just drive around looking for adventure.
Each summer, we would take off for a week or more with only a general direction and a map and see what we could find.
Here’s a typical example: One year, we decided to drive through Western Canada and went as far north as Edmonton. We kept seeing signs about the sport of “curling” and wanted to know what that was all about.
So, in our driving, we pass by a curling club, turn around, stop, get out of the car, knock on the door and as the owner comes to the door we say that we are from the U.S. and we are very interested in learning about curling.
It’s summer time and out of season for curling but the very gracious owner takes us in, shows us around, gives us a full tour and proudly explains the sport and all the champions his club has produced. We all had a great time and we thanked the owner profusely. (Canadians are so nice).
That’s just one simple adventure out of hundreds coupled with a consistent message I constantly delivered to them that there is no such thing as failure.
Conclusion and recap:
1. Get your kid to buy into the benefits of confidence and that it can be built like any other skill. 2. Give him/her a few tools to actively start working on it. 3. Eliminate the confidence killers.
If you want more, I’ve got a video program for confidence-building directly aimed at the kids on my website. I’ve learned a few things about how to get across a message to a kid. I sincerely hope you take these tips and use them to positively affect another person for their whole life. That’s my mission!
Craig has personally worked with thousands of professional and amateur athletes on the mental side of their game. He is an author and creator of 7 mental toughness programs sold in 28 countries and writes to over 30,000 athletes in his emails. Discover Craig’s programs for mental toughness and confidence building at: www.mentaltoughnesstrainer.com