I really love competitive youth sports for one solid reason.
Sure they are fun. They are good for developing athleticism and the ability to cooperate with others. Yup. They keep teenagers busy and engaged at a time when they are prone to distractions. That’s a good one. But this is not where the greatest value lies.
It lies in having the opportunity to rise and fall publicly.
In competitive sport, when you make a huge mistake you do so in front of (depending on your sport) hundreds or thousands of people. When you have an amazing performance and get to the top of the podium you do so in front of hundreds or thousands of people.
The potential for public humiliation or public recognition gifts us an amazing opportunity.
It’s immediate. It’s intense. It is an occasion where your words and actions will have a profound effect on your child.
How do we teach children that confidence and self-worth do not need to fluctuate based on wins and losses?
How do we help them grow into healthy adults who can stay steady through the real life “wins and losses” of promotions, terminations, financial stresses, and relationship challenges?
Don’t let the disappointments OR successes become a huge deal.
This is so hard. I have seen parents who are more nervous than their child when they compete. I have seen parents terrified that a team placement will crush their child’s confidence.
I’m a mom. I get it.
We want everything to go perfectly. We want to protect our little ones from intense disappointment. We want our child to achieve the success they deserve, because they have been working so hard. We want them to have confidence-building experiences.
We mistakenly believe that positive experiences have much more potential for building confidence than negative experiences.
Within our fear we can miss the amazing opportunity that has been presented to us.
We can build athletes who have resilient, steady self-confidence if we do this one important thing:
We can to show them that their true worth is constant. It cannot be affected by external situations. Don’t let them rise too high and don’t let them dip too low.
When they are successful, share in their joy, but please tell them that you really love them just the same whether they win or lose. They may resist. They may think the success makes them cooler/smarter/funnier/more attractive/more athletic. They may think that they are more than they were yesterday.
When they face a big disappointment, share in their sadness and frustration, but please tell them that you really love them just the same whether they win or lose. They may resist. They may think the disappointment makes them less cool/stupider/less funny/uglier/less athletic. They may think they are less than they were yesterday.
Hold them steady.
This is most effective when parents can dig deep down and truly see that their own worth is not dependent on successes or disappointments, especially the successes and disappointments of their children. This is hard work, as many of us really have come to believe that successes do make us a better or more worthy person.
Help your children find something they love that is challenging, that puts them right in the middle of the tenuous success/disappointment tightrope. The more tenuous, the better! Hold them steady as they are tempted to let their heads rise to the clouds when they achieve success. Hold them steady when they are tempted to dip low into sadness when they face disappointment.
Sports are not real life, but they are damn good practice.
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