Kevin, a 13-year-old baseball, hockey and tennis player from Portland, Ore., is a talented athlete who admits his “mental game” sometimes prevents him from playing his best.
“I take on my team’s errors,” he says. “If someone steals home base, I assume it’s my fault. I’m really hard on myself.”
All young athletes experience such challenges that can limit their success and confidence in sports. However, as a father, you can take practical steps to improve your young athlete’s “mental game” and boost his or her confidence. You can do this by using youth sports psychology strategies.
This does not mean that you sit your athlete down on the couch, then hypnotize, medicate or psychoanalyze him or her. It simply means you learn about common “mental game” challenges for child athletes, then follow some important guidelines when communicating about his or her practice, game or competition.
Following is a list of common confidence busters in kids. It’s likely your child experiences one or more of these mental game hurdles every time he or she plays. Children and teens often:
- Expect too much of themselves. They tell themselves they’re going to score 50 points, sink all their putts or snag 100% of the rebounds. They quickly become frustrated when they don’t meet these high expectations.
- Doubt their abilities. Kids tell themselves, “I don’t know how to putt,” or “I always air my free-throws” or “Unless my defender succumbs to a mysterious disease, I’ll never get by her.”
- Behave like perfectionists. These teens and children lambaste themselves for missing a putt or shot. They analyze each performance in minute detail, focusing on their bad stance, horrible posture and terrible attitude. These kids aren’t having as much fun as they could be–because they’re so determined to be perfect.
- Believe that if it happened once, it will always happen.? They tell themselves, “Because the Tigers creamed us last time, they’re going to cream us again,” or “I always blow my left-handed shots,” or “I’m a star when I play against that hairy quarterback, especially when he’s wearing a red headband.”
- Describe themselves with negative labels.? These young athletes think, “I’m not built to be a ballerina,” “I’m too fat to be a runner,” or “I’m hip-hop challenged in dance” or “I have ugly, knock-kneed feet.”
- Harbor goofy beliefs that limit their success.? These kids in sports believe they played a horrible game, even though they scored a goal and blocked two shots in soccer. They say, “I was awesome,” when they three score goals and block two shots. Their performance is either good or bad, with no in-between.
Once you, as a father, have identified one or more of these confidence busters in your child, you’ve taken an important step toward improving his or her mental game. Begin by helping you child or teen identify these attitudes. In future articles, we’ll tell you more about how to use youth sports psychology to ensure your child has a happier, more successful sports experience.
Dr. Patrick Cohn and Lisa Cohn are founders of The Ultimate Sports Parent. Listen to their radio show and download their free e-book, “Ten Tips to Improve Confidence and Success in Young Athletes,” by visiting The Ultimate Sports Parent.