Lisa Cohn here from The Ultimate Sports Parent. I’m here to make a confession…
When my son was in 9th grade, he’d often begin a basketball game with sky-high expectations. He was generally a successful player, and coaches and peers expected a lot from him. He excelled at making three-point shots.
Often, he wanted to break his own record and hit five three-point shots in one game. Or he expected to be the high scorer-and the top rebounder. He’d often tell me about what he expected of himself while we were driving to a game.
I’d stupidly-I learned later–encourage him to embrace such high expectations. If he aimed for five three-point shots, I’d say, “Come on, you can sink six!” (Until I recruited my brother–a sports-psychology expert–to get involved, I didn’t realize I was goofing up here in a big way.)
Anyway, while we were in the car, my son didn’t complain much about the way I pushed him. Â However, during the game, if he made two or three mistakes in the first few minutes, he’d tense up. He’d stop shooting and play scared. I could see that his main aim was to avoid making mistakes, rather than making the best of his creativity and talent.
My son is not alone. My brother, Patrick, and I receive many emails from parents who offer similar observations about their young athletes.
My son-and the young athletes of the parents who write us–displays the classic behavior of a perfectionist. In my son’s case, he’d have high demands for his performance, and then if he couldn’t meet them, he’d become frustrated. He’d get scared about making mistakes.
This would cause him to tense up, perform tentatively, and under-perform.
As a sports parent, I obviously had no clue at the time about how to deal with him. I made the mistake of fueling his perfectionism. I’d yell, “Shoot!” from the sidelines. When he came out of the game at the end of a quarter, I’d ask him what was up. “Why aren’t you sinking your trademark three-pointers?” I’d ask. So would other parents on the team.
“Those three pointers are like money in the bank,” one parent liked to say about my son’s shooting. When he heard these comments, my son would only expect more from himself. This often led to additional frustration.
We want to help other parents with perfectionist sports kids, like my son. I know there are a lot of them out there because I see them everyday while I’m watching my kids play sports.
I have asked my brother, Patrick, to help me develop “mental game” solutions for sports parents. I figure we’d make a great team. We collaborated on The Ultimate Sports Parent CD program. I’m a sports mom and stepmom to four young athletes (with one more future sports kid due in June), and I specialize in writing about parenting.
Patrick (or you may know him as Dr. Cohn) is a sports psychology expert. He has been coaching athletes for years on mental game skills. He says he has some ideas about how to help my son and others like him. He just has to carve out some time in his busy schedule.
As we work to develop solutions, I would like your input – if you are a parent of a “perfectionist” who’s afraid to make mistakes or if you coach this type of young athlete.
Please leave an anonymous comment below. Tell us all about your challenges you face with perfectionists as a parent or coach.
Are your young athletes afraid of failing? What are their fears about failing? Do they expect too much of themselves? Do they become easily frustrated? How do you try to cope with these challenges?
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